The Royal Tour in New Zealand – Was it worth it?

They say that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s recent royal tour of New Zealand cost the taxpayer one million dollars.

Was it money well spent? While it may not be that much relative to the nation’s operating allowances from 2018 until 2021, which are all in excess of NZ $2B (that is, two thousand million a year), it’s still enough to warrant looking at what we got in return – if anything!

Today, we’re going to take a look at the marketing and tourism impacts that the tour has had on the country, by looking at the data through the ol’ digital marketing lens.

Where Does Popular Opinion Lie?

Before we get into the search data, let’s explore the social context of our question. According to Stuff, almost half of Kiwis think the tour was misplaced funding. Their data was drawn from a 1News Colmar Brunton poll, which returned a figure of 48% for the tour, and 39% against, with the remainder unsure. This interview ran from October 15th to 19th and had a sample size of 1006, contacted via landline or mobile phone.

Noteworthy, perhaps, that the informal poll running in the Stuff article had a sample size of 8700, as of the time of writing. The same divide appears, though more pronounced: 59% against the tour, 41% for – over the half-way mark.

stuff royal tour poll

Source: Stuff NZ

This is important to investigate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the politics surrounding the question. Stuff’s article framed the choice as “the royals are important,” and “there are more pressing things to spend money on,” which implies a certain homogeny to the discussion; namely that the only reason someone might welcome the tour is that they support the Royal family.

Certainly, the poll data suggest the tour was primarily supported by those who are upper-class, right-wing, and 55 years and up. The implication is that this demographic is more likely to support New Zealand’s status in the Commonwealth – and relationship to the Crown – out of hand.

We need to identify this framing of the question, as we wish to frame things in a different way, and posit that the past month’s visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was worth the price tag for all Kiwis, regardless of their support of the monarchy.

What Does the Data Look Like?

pure seo interview with Richard Conway
Seven Sharp’s interview with Pure SEO’s CEO Richard Conway

Last month, Pure SEO was contacted by TVNZ’s Seven Sharp, in order to put together some fact and figures for their own report on the royal tour. 

While the news story builds an accurate picture of the core takeaway from the statistics – that New Zealand’s worldwide search traffic spiked in response to the birth of the prime minister’s daughter – Seven Sharp understandably didn’t have the screen-time to do a full expose on the data. Furthermore, when the story ran, a complete picture of the data for October – the month the tour took place in – wasn’t available. We were able to see upward momentum beginning, but weren’t able to see the total extent of Meghan Markle’s influence until November started.

The social capital the Duchess of Sussex wields is fairly evident in the data. As mentioned in the Seven Sharp clip by Richard Conway – PureSEO’s founder and CEO – Meghan Markle receives an average of 11 million searches per month. This ranks higher than Prince Harry and New Zealand combined, 2.7M and 1.5M respectively.

When we look at the global keyword seasonality for Meghan Markle, we can see the enormous spike during May – the month of the royal wedding. This dilutes the leap visible between September and October, so it’s worth clarifying the exact metrics involved; an increase from 6,120,000 searches to 13,600,000 searches, to be precise.

Worldwide keyword seasonality data for ‘Meghan Markle’

If we compare that increase to data from within New Zealand, it’s plain that a portion of that traffic is coming from Kiwis who are looking to find out who this Meghan Markle person is, anyway. The local increase matches the global one somewhat – the NZ-based metrics for September and October are 49,500 searches and 110,000 searches respectively.

New Zealand keyword seasonality data for ‘Meghan Markle’

With this data in mind, it follows that 13,490,000 of those global searches in October are coming from international users tracking Meghan Markle’s movements across the globe – but is there any way to know if international searches for Meghan Markle translates into publicity for New Zealand?

In the following data, we can see the ongoing growth of content published via social media, using the term ‘New Zealand’. In October, the month of the tour, published content about our nation reached its highest point in the last six months – over 13,000, not to mention the projected figure of 16,500 for November, as media outlets report on the tour now that it has been and gone.

Engagement between March – September for content featuring the term ‘New Zealand’

We can pretty safely attribute this to Ms Markle, as evidenced by the next graph, which shows a spike in content containing both the terms ‘New Zealand’ and ‘Meghan Markle’.

Engagement between March – September for content featuring the terms ‘New Zealand’ and ‘Meghan Markle’

It’s clear that there is indeed a certain ‘star-power’ to be tapped here, but while we can see that there was plenty of buzz on social media around the tour, the above figures can’t tell us if the coverage of the tour translated into the tangible benefits Tourism NZ was hoping for. Luckily for us, the next figures do.

Worldwide Google Trends data for users searching the term ‘New Zealand’

It may not look like much, but getting Google’s worldwide trends to budge is a feat in itself. The fact that they spike to their highest point in the last several months on October should seal the deal – Meghan Markle has been worth the $1M price tag alone.

Each one of those dollars could well have planted the idea of a New Zealand vacation in hundreds of minds throughout the world, and we can make these estimates pretty soundly based on the search data. However you feel about the monarchy, or New Zealand’s position in the Commonwealth, there’s no denying this was likely a carefully weighed publicity move by the Government and one that’s paid off.

Influence on Marketing and Brands

And it hasn’t just paid off for the national treasury either – there have been reports of New Zealand brands selling out of products as a direct result of the tour.

As outlined in this RNZ article, Vanity Fair published a guide to every last one of Meghan Markle’s outfits for the trip, and four of them were pieces by well-known New Zealand designer, Karen Walker.

When Markle stepped off the plane in Wellington, she did so in a Karen Walker Banks trench coat, and Vogue went on to name it a must-have of the season. It sold out “a little quick[er] than it would have otherwise.” Walker told RNZ. She also divulged that the brand saw a modest bump of +75% to their online traffic from the United States, which the company attributes to the tour.

So Why Was it Worth it?

According to General Manager of Public Relations and Major Events, Lauren Vosper, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Royal Tour back in 2014 cost about the same, and paid itself off – seven times over.

While it’s difficult to make precise judgments about numbers so large, it does seem like a no-brainer to go for the same sort of deal again. Furthermore, American interest in the royal family has been stoked by Markle’s Californian heritage, making this year’s royal couple even more popular overseas.  

Building interest in New Zealand is a savvy move for the Government, especially considering tourism traffic from Peter Jackson’s much-loved Lord of the Rings adaptations has been declining. The filming of The Hobbit was, in many ways, a hopeful attempt to renew this interest, but ended up costing the Government of the time more than it made, due to a wide variety of factors that this writer would love to get into, but shouldn’t.

Overall, it does appear to have been worth the cost, as it hasn’t put that much of a dent in the budget, and we have every reason to assume we’ll see the investment back with interest over the next several years. All we need now is to figure out how to get the Queen herself on a plane to New Zealand for once.

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Sam Mannell

Sam Mannell has been a writer for the Pure SEO content team since August '18, and is now Lead Editor. He quickly found his place in the company as resident Dungeon Master and coffee expert. Sam holds a BA from University of Auckland, where he double-majored in Linguistics and English.

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