Top Japanese sporting celeb “lets it go” in New Zealand

One of Japan's most well-known athletes, figure-skater Mao Asada, visited New Zealand recently with her sister Mai, as part of Tourism New Zealand's international media programme. The trip aired as a storytelling-type documentary, viewed by a 4.4 million-strong Japanese audience, on TV Tokyo in September.

Nick Mudge, Tourism New Zealand's Regional Manager Japan & Korea says an audience the size of New Zealand's population is not insignificant, and has the potential to convert into real tourism gains.

The 75-minute programme, based in and around Queenstown, captured all the emotion Mao felt as a five year old when she first took to the ice with sister Mai, aged seven. On an outdoor ice rink at the spectacular Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, away from the rigours of Olympic training, Mao's passion for skating was reignited. The Japanese version of "Let it Go" from the blockbuster Disney fairy-tale Frozen, captured the mood during the on-air screening.

As Japan's leading sports star, Mao is key to influencing behaviour. We know that word of mouth remains one of the most influential factors in helping people make travel decisions and when endorsement comes from popular and appealing influencers the impact is even stronger.

"The equivalent advertising value of the 75 minute programme is over NZD$6m, which essentially means if we were to purchase 75 minutes of TV exposure that is what it would cost," said Nick.

"So we're already seeing the value of hosting the Asada sisters in New Zealand, and we are continuing to monitor the response to the show.

Examples of the pick up by blogs and news and the social media buzz leading up to the airing include: Tourism New Zealand's twitter coverage, the Asada Mao official twitter and the official TV Tokyo show website.

In tandem with the episode airing Tourism New Zealand was live tweeting, responding to tweets asking questions of New Zealand.

Nick says, "By responding to tweets during the show, we managed to get travel tips and other information out to viewers. This added another dimension to the show's impact for the New Zealand tourism industry.

"When connecting with the youth market it is important to be interactive and immediately responsive and the live tweeting worked very well to this end".

The potential spin-offs for New Zealand from this visit are substantial. This is the first sneak peak fans have had into the private lives of the pair and it's no surprise that interest is huge. The vast array of New Zealand's tourist offerings are endorsed at every turn, and Mao and Mai experienced a number of personal firsts, giving everything a go. They rode in a helicopter, bungy jumped, learned a poi dance, went jet boating and marvelled at the pristine skyline from the gondola.

The sisters talk of the importance of family during the show and the special memories created during their homestay in Glenorchy. The relaxed hospitality - which meant helping out in the kitchen and feeding the animals - was key to Mao and Mai's feelings of rejuvenation.

New Zealand received just over 48,000 holiday arrivals from Japan for the year end August 2014.