Why does it matter to communicate with audiences at the right time and place? A case study of New Zealand Border Compliance Social Marketing programme.

Did you know that used hiking equipment such as hiking boots could be a biosecurity risk? International travellers to New Zealand often bring items that pose a serious biosecurity risk to the natural environment of New Zealand. Those items include, amongst others, used outdoor and hiking equipment such as hiking boots. The Ministry for Primary Industries (New Zealand) explains why in this short video. The video is just one of the tactics that the MPI used to increase awareness about biosecurity risks and, eventually, change traveller behaviour. The campaign demonstrates why communicating with international travellers matters and highlights the need to do it in a culturally sensitive way.

A team of specialists working at the Department of Communications and Channels, for the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries developed a communication programme to raise awareness about biosecurity risks related to bringing in a range of items into New Zealand. The aim of the Border Compliance Social Marketing programme was to change international tourist behaviour BEFORE they travel to New Zealand. The programme, described in detail in this Journal of Social Marketing article, is “[a]imed at visitors with the highest identified risk” (targeting travellers from India and China, two countries that send large numbers of visitors to NZ); and “uses a range of interventions in the pre-travel, in-journey and upon-arrival stages of travel.” (Sherring, 2019, p.85). Specifically, the programme’s goal is “to protect New Zealand’s horticultural and agricultural industries, as well as its environment by ensuring overseas visitors do not bring in items that may contain harmful pests and diseases.” (Sherring, 2019, p. 85). In simpler words,  MPI intend to convince travellers not to bring items such as food (cooked or uncooked); animals and animal products, plants and plant products, equipment used with animals, plants or water, and items that have been used for outdoor (such as hiking boots) or farming activities to New Zealand.

In order to achieve this goal MPI developed a programme which targeted several groups of tourists at different times and locations:

  • Local communities in New Zealand (Communicating with them via mass and social media) to encourage individuals to advise friends and family overseas to leave prohibited items at home and conform to the majority’s belief that this is important behaviour. Advertising (posters) conveyed the message “Relatives visiting?  Tell them to always declare food and spices on their arrival card”.
  • International travellers during pre-travel, in-journey and on-arrival (details are presented in the table below).
Pre-travelDigital advertising on popular online travel booking sites (e.g., CTrip in China and Skyscanner in India).   Search engine marketing with key search terms about travel to New Zealand.                   Informing about biosecurity risks at the time of visa application.                   Targeted direct emails (from Immigration New Zealand) sent to visitors two weeks before their visa is due to commence.     Travel and tour companies in India and China receive training guides to ensure travel agents are aware and can inform travellers about the biosecurity requirements.  Online adverts are targeted to searches on New Zealand.       Education is essential at this stage, and MPI assists this with having translated website content and resources (e.g., Chinese language biosecurity website www.nzquarantine.com).     Posters and booklets handed out to visa applicants (for in-person applications); information on Immigration New Zealand’s websites and e-visa application portals (for digital visa applications).   Direct e-mails include links to translated Web content and materials.
In-journeyTranslated leaflets/guides that wrap around the arrival card on all direct flights from China.   In-flight video describing biosecurity and asking passengers to follow the rules.Messaging focuses on explaining what is required upon arrival ( disposing of risk items in specially marked “amnesty bins” and ensuring any risk items are declared to border staff, info about the NZ$400 fine).  
On-arrivalAirport signage and bins, staff to help (including translators), and aids for border staff (such as flash cards).   Translated signs for Chinese and Indian passengers are placed throughout the airport. Public address announcements to remind visitors about biosecurity checks.Signs, bins and collateral state the penalty for non-compliance with the instruction of “declare, dispose or pay the fine”.

The advertisements used in the programme featured a range of images that were culturally appropriate to the target groups. For example, one of the advertisements targeted at visitors from India features the theme of prasad and offerings – a specific religious (Hinduism) practice of offering food and water to a deity during worship (puja). When used at the pre-journey stage, these posters were available in a range of local languages. All communication materials are publicly available on the MPI website.

The case is a useful example of the importance of marketing communications timing and place in a not-for-profit context. For more examples of campaigns targeted at international travellers, have a look at the UNESCO website featuring a number of sustainable tourism campaigns.