Bruce Wills: Rural life and culture set us apart

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By banning promotional imagery of Maori and country scenes, Tourism NZ is denying our global uniqueness.

The series of Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model show that NZ hosted was seen by more than three million viewers on average in the United States. Photo / File
The series of Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model show that NZ hosted was seen by more than three million viewers on average in the United States. Photo / File

Thanks to some great work by the Herald, a Tourism NZ report on our hosting of America's Next Top Model has come to light with its interesting conclusions.

I am not an avid follower of the Tyra Banks-fronted show, but I know people who are and they recall one episode when the contestants, I mean "models", arrived in New Zealand.

One believed "New Zealand was right above Canada". It gets worse as one television reviewer typed, "I can't wait to see what they come up with next week. I hope it involves koalas".

Thanks to the Herald's David Fisher, I now have that Tourism NZ report and while it reads mostly positive, the hard financial data is greyed out. So we know the successes but we have no idea as to what it cost or the return on our taxpayer investment.

It is great to have celebrities tweeting how gorgeous New Zealand is - and wouldn't you, if the costs for a 60-strong crew were met by the host country?

The series of America's Next Top Model we hosted averaged 3.29 million viewers in the United States; down on the six million who watched the very first series. Bearing in mind we hosted series number 14, Tyra Banks' fashionistas have subsequently been to Venice, Morocco, Greece and Hong Kong. The latest series, number 18, attracted an average of 1.52 million viewers so you do have to wonder about the long-term success.

The one thing picked up by the Herald and in my reading of the Tourism NZ report are these discordant words, "too much imagery featuring rural landscapes was a disappointment. Next time we will have a 'blacklist' of banned imagery written into the contract so we can have tighter control".

When you consider one of the key successes in the report was 20 shots of the Air New Zealand logo during an "in-flight catwalk challenge", you have to wonder if someone got one too many stars in their eyes.

There seems to be an assumption tourists jet halfway around the world to sit in a city slightly smaller than the one they just left. Don't get me wrong. Cities are vital as gateways and to provide the rounded visitor experience, but few tourists visit for bricks and mortar alone.

Our diverse melting pot culture and nature is a key attraction but Maori, likewise, join farmers as targets for Tourism NZ.

The report states, "it is very difficult to feature Maori culture in American Reality TV in a culturally appropriate and respectful way".

It is no wonder the Herald concluded, "Foreign television shows are to be steered away from filming sheep and Maori culture after tourism bosses complained they portray New Zealand in a disappointing and inappropriate manner". As a farmer that makes my heart sing with pride.

This is not cultural cringe, it is reverse snobbery. It is like Los Angeles disavowing Hollywood and theme parks as incompatible with a progressive image as a centre for international commerce and science.

Instead of reverse snobbery, let us celebrate our uniqueness for that is why people are attracted down here in the first place.

Our farm is part of the tourism industry and those I host at Trelinnoe generally come from Europe and North America. They visit for our wide open spaces and yes, for our chocolate box pastoral scenes too.

This attracts and inspires movie makers too; is not Hobbiton on a Waikato farm and is not the Shire Tolkien's ideal of rural life?

Our combination of city life, a totally unique Maori culture and working pastoral landscapes alongside fauna and flora compel people to come.

It would be genuinely helpful if research was undertaken to find out how much value our working pastoral landscapes contribute to inbound international tourism's $9.7 billion worth of foreign exchange.

Having spoken to people who followed America's Next Top Model in New Zealand, they felt there was little tie-in to New Zealand products.

Take the photo session with a ram that is to be banned. The model/contestants were decked out in evening gowns but was not merino fashion more appropriate?

Let's face it, the first introduction to New Zealand most people have is either through what they see on the silver screen or what they eat, drink or wear.

Perhaps the next time Tourism NZ has an idea like this, they ought to engage other parts of government and industry to make it truly "NZ Inc".

I think we can do better than being a reality television show backdrop.

Bruce Wills is president of Federated Farmers.

- NZ Herald

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