$5m to make most of 'Hobbit' effect

Tourism New Zealand plans to capitalise on Tolkien tourism. Photo supplied.
Tourism New Zealand plans to capitalise on Tolkien tourism. Photo supplied.
Tourism New Zealand is spending an extra $5 million to capitalise on Tolkien tourism.

Not only had Sir Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies and the first two The Hobbit films - based on books by celebrated English author J. R. R. Tolkien - grossed an estimated $US1.6 billion at the box office worldwide, Tourism New Zealand's chief executive Kevin Bowler said they were influencing people's decision to visit the country.

To take advantage of the December release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, $4 million to $5 million of the country's $113 million promotional budget will be spent trying to entice tourists from the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, he said.

''At one point our research said that last summer as many as 20% of US and German visitors said that the Middle-earth movies had an impact on their choice of New Zealand - and in the most recent data the average was 14%,'' he told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

''It's pretty high when you think about 28 million arrivals.''

Tourists from the US, UK and Germany tended to be higher spending, on average, than those from many other markets.

In the year to the end of March, international visitors to New Zealand were up 6%, to 2.79 million people, and visitor spending was up 9%.

So, more people are coming and they are generally spending more.

Addressing a group of tourist operators in Queenstown yesterday, the tourism body's director of trade, PR and major events, Justin Watson, said New Zealand was co-hosting the Cricket World Cup next year and the Fifa under-20 football world cup.

But by far the biggest event in the next 12 months was the third The Hobbit movie, he said.

''We've got this unique opportunity out of these markets to pump up value and grow it disproportionately.''

He said the effect of the movies is already being felt, despite the fact many people who listed the films as an influence had not seen them.

''If you're, in your business, seeing more Germans, more Americans, more Brits - that's the Hobbit effect happening.

According to Tourism New Zealand figures, about 45% of international tourists come from Australia, while US, German and UK visitors make up 17% of our overall international visitors.

On average, German holiday tourists stay for the longest period while UK visitors spend the most.

The Government has set a goal of earning $41 billion from tourism in 2025. Last year, tourism takings were $25 billion.

A way to achieve that is target high-value tourists - preferring value over volume - such as wealthy Chinese, golf tourists and through attracting business events, such as conventions and incentive trips.

The cast and crew from the final instalment of The Hobbit trilogy showed off the first trailer for the film at the Comic-Con entertainment convention in San Diego at the weekend.

Although he would not provide details, Mr Bowler said Warner Brothers would also make an announcement this weekend about New Zealand's branding as ''Middle-earth''.

david.williams@odt.co.nz