International students who have found themselves spending an unplanned summer in New Zealand now have a new tool to help them experience more of Aotearoa.
Launched today (December 2), BeKiwi is a web platform that offers a curated selection of the best experiences from around Northland and Auckland, specifically designed to help international students better connect with New Zealand people and culture.
The site’s developers are looking to expand the site to become nationwide by next June.
The idea for BeKiwi emerged in response to concerns that some international students were struggling to find opportunities to easily connect with local people, places, and experiences.
The original concept for BeKiwi was developed by Whangārei strategy and marketing company Level, and with support from Northland Inc, the company was successful in attracting funding from the Ministry of Education International Student Wellbeing Strategy Fund and Auckland Unlimited (formerly ATEED).
Pre Covid-19, there were on average 125,000 international students in New Zealand at any one time, and there are currently still approximately 40,000 students in the country, with about half of these students based in Auckland.
BeKiwi co-founder Katy Mandeno said students wanted an easier way to discover high quality experiences that would help them feel more connected, by better understanding Kiwi culture, as well as learning new skills that could improve their future employment opportunities.
Ms Mandeno said research has shown the next generation of international students and youth travellers aren’t just looking for box-ticking tourism, but want travel opportunities that offer deeper, more meaningful experiences and connections.
“Great examples include volunteering and hands-on activities that focus on cultural practices and sustainability. These experiences offer a twist on traditional tourism and provide much of what international students are looking for, in the way of learning opportunities, human connections and cultural understanding,” she said.
“Every experience on BeKiwi includes learning outcomes, social and cultural protocols to improve cultural awareness and understanding, and relevant future skills, such as communication, leadership and problem solving. This is to help students better understand the connection between these hands-on experiences and the soft or future skills that will help strengthen their capabilities and employability in the future.”
Northland Inc’s Chief Executive Murray Reade said the concept is an exciting development because it will help to bring small businesses in Northland onto the tourism radar for the first time: “In Tai Tokerau we have many talented small businesses offering unique and personal learning experiences, but they don’t necessarily have the capacity to market themselves nationally, let alone internationally.
“Through BeKiwi, they are being given a platform to promote their experiences, which are as genuine and authentic as you could ask for. Great examples of this include woodturning and print-making workshops, kaimoana gathering experiences and tree-planting volunteer days. These are all ideal opportunities for international students and other travellers to get to know Aotearoa’s people and culture on a deeper level.”
Auckland Unlimited’s Head of International Education, Henry Matthews, said international students are hungry for authentic tourism experiences that connect them with Kiwis and local places: “BeKiwi is a unique opportunity for local tourism providers to connect directly with the international student travel market.
“International students are keen to travel throughout New Zealand, but it can be difficult for them to know where and how to access local experiences. BeKiwi makes it easier for students to find experiences, and for tourism providers to tailor their experiences to suit this savvy travel market.”
Providers are being offered a free listing on the site for the first 12 months.