Hobbit fever

As Tourism Business was going to press the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had just had its world premiere in Wellington in late November. And it seems fair to say the tourism industry was waiting with bated breath to see how things developed.

For Tourism New Zealand, Air New Zealand, regional tourism organisations and individual businesses a lot rests on the success of the film in luring more visitors to our shores in this difficult economic climate.

And the figures being bandied about, during the extensive television and radio coverage of the world premiere of Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, were very impressive.

Air New Zealand’s outgoing CEO Rob Fyfe, walking the red carpet, told TV3 that a sale in the United States on Monday, two days before the premiere, had seen the United States site exceed its previous single day sales record by more than 50 percent.

He said The Hobbit was worth, to the airline, tens of millions of dollars if not 100s of millions. It would be the biggest thing, marketing-wise, for the airline for the next two years.
Hobbiton’s Kirsten Madill told Tourism Business that Hobbiton had 50,000 visitors last year, was expecting to reach 100,000 this financial year and hoping for 150,000 the next financial year.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler, told Tourism Business via email that The Hobbit trilogy presents a significant opportunity for New Zealand, putting New Zealand and its landscapes centre-stage for movie lovers world-wide.

“Tourism New Zealand’s 100% Middle-earth,100% Pure New Zealand underpins our campaign work to promote New Zealand as a visitor destination, showing people that the fantasy of Middle-earth exists as a real place here in New Zealand.”

As to what it is worth Bowler said that in 2004, around six percent of travellers cited the Lord of the Rings as a key motivator for coming to New Zealand.

“If we could get that sort of growth again, which in today’s terms would be about 150,000 visitors, it would be amazing. If we put that into dollar terms, the movies could bring around $400m to New Zealand based on the average holiday visitor expenditure of $3,000.”
And Tourism New Zealand is working hard to ensure the international media coverage will be extensive.

Around 100 international media from North and South America, Asia, Europe and Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia were in Wellington from November 26, at the invitation of Warner Bros. Pictures and supported by Tourism New Zealand as lead agency for NZ Inc and Air New Zealand.

“As well as the red carpet event and attending the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the premiere itinerary included iconic tourism experiences, interviews with cast, behind-the-scenes with the creative film-makers/artists at Weta, and legendary New Zealand hospitality.

“Tourism New Zealand also hosted a number of select media before and after the premiere in the Wairarapa, Nelson, Waikato and Rotorua regions, to show them that New Zealand is a great place to do business, to make films and of course, a fantastic place to visit.” 
In turn, popular Chinese actress Yao Chen was in New Zealand to shoot the next stage of the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign in her role as China Brand Ambassador for Tourism New Zealand. She was invited by Warner Brothers to attend the premiere of The Hobbit so extended her visit to attend and was posting to Weibo (the Chinese Twitter) throughout her time in New Zealand including her attendance on the red carpet.

As to the operators, Helen Bissett, the CEO of Bush and Beach in Auckland, launched a new one day tour to Matamata’s Hobbiton in July and says it has been going great guns.
She said in her eight years at Bush and Beach she had never seen a new tour with such a fast uptake by customers. She put that down to the awareness of the film, even before launch, with visitors looking for and finding such tours, rather than having to be sold the tour.

It was attracting a huge mix of people including quite a few Chinese visitors and not all those going on the tour were necessarily fans, but were just interested to go and see Hobbiton.

She believes The Hobbit will be as big as anything New Zealand has seen.
As she sees it, the films may be the tipping factor for people who had been thinking about visiting New Zealand.

Hobbiton, which is the largest green set in the world, according to Bissett, is really magical for visitors. As they stand at the door of Bilbos Baggins’ house, Bag-end, they can see the whole of the Hobbit village and across the rolling hills of the “shire” and the “county” beyond.

Bissett is very firmly in the camp that says the film will provide great promotion and awareness for New Zealand.

“I personally think this is going to be great for tourism in New Zealand. It is the right thing for Tourism NZ and Air NZ to be jumping on board and making the most of it. It is a great opportunity that we mustn’t miss out on.”

And Tourism NZ, Air NZ and the airports certainly have been busy around the launch. 
Air NZ has the stars of the film appearing in its safety video, which a press release says was created in conjunction with Weta Workshop and features appearances from Sir Peter Jackson, as well as Gollum.

As Tourism New Zealand said just before the launch: “From dwarves popping up on buildings in central Wellington, to Middle-earth themed currency and stamps, it seems New Zealand has caught Middle-earth fever.”

Air New Zealand’s support of The Hobbit Trilogy also includes a themed aircraft which was unveiled in Wellington on première day.

In turn, Auckland International Airport, 'Gateway to Middle-earth' will host “fun, themed activities around the time of the first film ... as well as a Weta Workshop installation that will make travellers feel as though they really have arrived through the Gateway to Middle-earth”.

Around the launch Wellington’s highlights included Hobbit-inspired artwork around the city, a five day Hobbit Artisan Market and free outdoor screenings of LOTR’s Trilogy.
At Wellington Airport a 40-foot-long Gollum, was moved into the terminal in late October.
Tourism NZ also said that New Zealand Post had unveiled designs for the world’s only legal tender coins linked to the first movie and a set of stamps based on the movies.

The next instalment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is due for release in December 2013 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again is due out in July 2014.

Posted: Friday 25 January 2013