If you subscribe to the old adage about any publicity being
good publicity, The Hobbit has had a good week.
Headlines have covered accusations of animal cruelty, a legal
stoush between Tolkien's estate and Warner Bros, and a
reporter temporarily banned from the red carpet at
Wednesday's world premiere.
This is on top of the lingering bitterness over a labour
dispute that threatened to disrupt the movies and claims
Warner Bros was dictating New Zealand's industrial law.
An actor reportedly coined the term "Hobbit curse" following
the early delays in filming.
Tourism NZ chief executive Kevin Bowler is not a subscriber
to the "any publicity" maxim and after talking to the
agency's offices around the world he's confident few among
his several hundred million-strong target audience overseas
will have heard of the issues.
"The rest of the world is not taking any notice. They're
looking forward to the release of the films. These are local
issues in the main," Bowler says.
Tourism NZ was not focused on this country.
"We're looking at the way a global audience is thinking about
Bowler says the mood here seems similar to how it was in the
lead up to the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony last year.
"I think this is like the week before the World Cup. There
were people wrangling about traffic issues and this and that
basically because they couldn't talk about the rugby because
it hadn't started."
Aside from the chaos on the first night, the tournament was
widely acclaimed as a success and Bowler is confident the
same will be true of the The Hobbit.
"When they see the celebrities arrive on the red carpet in
Wellington it will all change," he says.
"I hope New Zealand can rally behind this like we did rally
behind the Rugby World Cup ... and take a more positive
outlook on it and seize the opportunity and not scratch at
The blitz of media coverage, warts and all, was a sign of the
importance of the trilogy.
"The fact that they're in the news and they're the top three
stories almost every day for the past week shows how
important they are."
Tourism NZ's total annual budget is $84 million, about $65
million of which is spent on marketing and the $10 million to
promote this country as Middle-Earth is the single biggest
This includes production of new 100% Middle Earth, 100% Pure
New Zealand adverts and paying to have it screened in cinemas
in all key markets before The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey,
and on television in Australia.
It also includes on-line activity, bringing dozens of
journalists here and producing video and still images for use
Bowler says that unlike the World Cup, The Hobbit had appeal
in growth markets in Asia, including China and the United
States and the potential to keep returning incremental
benefits over several years.
"This reaches hundreds of millions of people in key markets
and, unlike an event like the rugby, this is going to build
over two and a half to three years," he says.
"This doesn't have the displacement problems that you
experience around a big event."
There are now about one billion international trips taken a
year, and he says New Zealand gets 2.6 million of these, a
number that has come off high pre-global financial crisis
"We're not a mainstream tourist destination by any means,
we're a long way away and we trade off the fact that we're
exotic and premium."
Among the top 10 markets there was a high interest in
visiting, and it was hoped the films would act as a catalyst
to move New Zealand higher up the bucket list.
Research following the Lord of the Rings trilogy found that
of tourists surveyed then, 6 per cent said the movies were
one of the major reasons they visited and 1 per cent said it
was the main reason.
Applied to visitor numbers now this could mean as many as
150,000 may be partly or fully attracted by The
Bowler says this could mean another $500 million in spending
but he's cautious, saying he had "moderate confidence" in the
"You've got a whole lot of variables that are different
"You've got a much higher dollar, we've still got the effects
of [the] euro crisis and the GFC but equally we've got new
markets that are growing quickly and we know will be
interested in the films," he says.
"We've got a moderate level of confidence that we will see
upside. This is a way of getting our tourism message more
widely and more directly than we could do ourselves."
In addition to Tourism NZ's spending, Warner Bros had
committed US$100 million ($122.5 million) to promote The
Hobbit around the world. While Warners will concentrate
on promoting the film, the trick for Tourism New Zealand is
making sure audiences were left in no doubt it was made here.
"If the films were wildly successful but nobody knew they
were made in New Zealand that wouldn't do a lot for us."
And if they're not a hit?
Bowler says given Sir Peter Jackson's track record, he is
confident they will not bomb.
"We think it's a pretty good bet that these films will be
"If they're not then we can consider our position in the
longer term but I think most of the world will want to go and
China is New Zealand's fastest growing tourist market and is
the latest target of an interactive online campaign and
Chinese actively considering travel during Chinese New Year
in February next year are being targeted and adverts use
Tourism New Zealand's Chinese brand ambassador Yao Chen, an
actor with 26 million followers on social media site, Weibo.
Her wedding in Queenstown earlier this week quickly generated
more than 1000 stories in Chinese media.
Bowler says there is high awareness of The Hobbit in
China, although he concedes that data can be unreliable.
Commentator and former Air New Zealand executive David
Beatson has raised questions about the financial spin off
from The Hobbit, based on figures for The Lord of the
He says advertising and marketing campaigns were
"interesting" but unless money could be found for followup
contacting potential visitors, the effort could be wasted.
Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster's company has
just launched a central North Island visitor experience aimed
at tourists using motorhomes.
So far the response from the tourist trade had been
Webster says any benefit The Hobbit could provide was
"The Hobbit is not going to suddenly convert people in
my view," he says. "However, it absolutely will raise New
Zealand's profile and allows us the chance to get in behind
it and say New Zealand is a great place to travel."
- By Grant Bradley of the New Zealand Herald