Celebrity hosting targets millions

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 09:38 26/06/2012

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A Taiwanese glamour couple's eight-day excursion to New Zealand is part of a strategy those involved say could eventually bring tens of millions of dollars into the Kiwi economy.

News presenter HaiYin Chen and her architect husband have just finished a whirlwind tour of some of  New Zealand's finest tourist destinations - including Hobbiton, Waitomo Caves and Queenstown's Winter Festival.

The trip was the latest in a series of celebrity visits hosted by Auckland Airport and the company's general manager of aeronautical and commercial Glenn Wedlock said the tactic was showing dividends.

After Indonesian TV chef Farah Quinn visited in May, a website set up to capture interest in her home country crashed temporarily under the weight of visitors.

The Indonesian "Luxury New Zealand" Facebook page has since built up 18,000 "likers" since then.

The airport said Chen's visit was the start of trial for a new "four seasons" approach for Taiwan, which meant hosting a different Taiwanese celebrity here during each season of the year to show the flexibility and variety of Kiwi attractions.

If successful the approach would then be extended to other target markets of Indonesia and China.

With a population of 23 million, Taiwan is considered a mature and high-value market that could see about 21,000 visitors coming to New Zealand per year by 2020, according to the airport.

Wedlock said the increase could add an additional $70 million dollars to the New Zealand economy.

Last year China Airlines began flying between Auckland and Taipei, via Brisbane, and the airport is keen to show wholesalers in Taiwan that there is still untapped demand.

Chen has a highly visible blog and almost 12000 followers on Chinese social media site Weibo.

She had most recently told her followers about seeing the annual bird-man diving competition on Queenstown's waterfront, suggesting her fans should come to New Zealand to take part.

She also plugged Kiwi "must-buys" including Ugg boots, lanolin, honey, propolis, woollen hats and L&P.

But while Chen's followers may not all jump on a plane straight away, the major pay-off for the New Zealand market will be in demonstrating to wholesalers that there is enough interest for them to begin mainstream advertising campaigns in earnest.

Wedlock said the airport was encouraging Asian wholesalers to offer new activities to their package tourists, including the likes of the skydiving trip and Harley Davidson tour enjoyed by Chen.

"What we've been able to do is actually use [celebrities] as a demonstration to our other wholesale partners about the sort of products we might want to start to sell in New Zealand.

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"It enables us to keep building and seeing what works by demonstrating the market demand and interest.

"While I don't think we're saying they should move away from the core product they have, what we're trying to do is get them to look at further opportunities and how they might sell differently and that'll keep moving."

Hobbiton Village's sales and operations manager Henry Horne said the "celebrity" strategy
 was about having the right capacity and seat availability to match demand.

"The relationship you can build between airlines and the airport [is important], and Auckland is our number one gateway.''

Bularangi Harley Davidson Motorcycle Tours director Baz Howie said he was happy to host Chen and said it was a "really smart idea" to target Asian celebrities as he had seen a huge drop-off in European and American tourists in the past two years.

- (Live Matches)

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