NZ cements its reputation as the real Middle-earth

Tourism New Zealand's work to use the third largest movie franchise ever, and position New Zealand as the home of Middle-earth, has easily been our largest, and most successful piece of work in recent memory.

For the past three years we have worked alongside partners to cement New Zealand as "the home of Middle-earth" in the minds of our target audiences.

The final set piece in the 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand campaign culminated in London last week at the global premiere of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the third film in the Trilogy.

In itself no small feat, Tourism New Zealand, Hobbiton Movie Set and Air New Zealand transported a slice of the real Middle-earth to central London, recreating the entrance to a Hobbit hole inside Claridge's hotel.

Those stepping over the immaculately landscaped entrance and through the Hobbit door entered a room filled with images and props from the real Middle-earth, New Zealand.

The 'New Zealand Room' quickly became the "must see" room of the media junket with around 100 journalists visiting for interviews and stand-ups - many more for photos. Billy Boyd, star of the Lord of the Rings, musician and huge advocate for New Zealand spent three days being interviewed by media outside the Hobbit hole and offering up pineapple lumps to all his visitors.

On the night of the premiere, the 'green' carpet, the area where media gather to interview the stars on the red carpet, was lined with 28 screens broadcasting New Zealand footage to the thousands gathered at Leicester Square and the many millions more tuning in across the globe.

Tourism New Zealand was part of the accredited media programme with access to all the stars. Footage of them talking about their time in New Zealand has been distributed globally. The Real Middle-earth video diaries, created initially for the Fan Fellowship, have continued for Premiere activity.

Hobbiton Movie Set's Russell Alexander and I both undertook a range of interviews. I spoke live to BBC World's business programme reaching some 350 million viewers worldwide, about the impact of The Hobbit films for New Zealand and our tourism industry. 

And if nothing else, seeing the fans, the cast and the hype in London reconfirmed that these films really are a big deal on the global stage and over the last 15 years New Zealand really has successfully navigated itself, right into the heart of it with our Middle-earth messaging.

Right from the beginning, our marketing strategy was focused on converting the international attention New Zealand will draw from starring in the Hobbit Trilogy, into travel.

And we just need to look at the numbers to know it has worked.

We've seen a 52 per cent increase in visitor arrivals since The Lord of the Rings films. In 2000 we received 1.78 million visitors for the year, while by 2013 that had increased to 2.71 million.

In the last year, 16 per cent (1 in 6) of holiday visitors from the US and Germany said the Hobbit was one of the reasons they chose to come to New Zealand. For all markets, this is 13 per cent - or just over 1 in 10 holiday visitors.

Research completed earlier in the year by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research found that the marketing of New Zealand as Middle-earth had a significant and quantifiable impact on growth in visitor arrivals from Western markets.

And while the Trilogy is complete, New Zealand's association as the home of the cinematic Middle-earth will live on. The establishment of Middle-earth tourism product throughout the country ensuring the legacy continues.

Closing out a fantastic week of activity in the UK, on Monday New Zealand was voted best country in the 2014 Daily Telegraph Travel Awards. With almost 90,000 people responding to the survey, making it one of the biggest - if not the biggest - tourism reader survey in the world, this award is a significant achievement and signals the popularity of New Zealand in the UK.

With that said, it's been an incredible year with another one just around the corner and all signs point to a bumper summer season. From all of us at Tourism New Zealand, thank you very much for your support in 2014. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

First published in Inside Tourism issue 1,007, 12 December