Tourism blitz to lure fans of Hobbit

A new tourism campaign hopes to capitalise on the return of Middle-earth by persuading holidaying hobbit fans to make an unexpected journey to Nelson.

Nelson Tasman Tourism has announced it plans to use the upcoming The Hobbit film trilogy, Peter Jackson's follow-up to the Lord of the Rings, as an opportunity to attract visitors to the area with a marketing campaign based on the slogan: "Nelson Tasman: Have a Hobbit's Holiday".

The first film, An Unexpected Journey, will be released in New Zealand on December 14, and the tourism agency hopes it will attract fans of Middle-earth to New Zealand and give the region's tourism a boost.

Attractions such as the World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum, Jens Hansen jewellers, and the local growers of new label Middle-earth Wines could all benefit from the anticipated increase in visits.

Helicopter companies which fly to remote Hobbit film locations - such as Reid Helicopters and Tasman Helicopters - could also see growth.

The trilogy's stars Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, James Nesbitt and Stephen Fry were part of a crew filming in the region in December, visiting such locations as Canaan Downs, Kaihoka Lakes, Mt Owen and the Pelorus River.

The region is already home to three film locations from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as the “One Ring” maker, Jens Hansen Jewellers.

Nelson Tasman Tourism chief executive Lynda Keene, a huge Tolkien fan who owns a copy of the One Ring, said the new film sites used in the trilogy would be disclosed as they appeared at each premiere.

The goal was to make Nelson Tasman a must-visit destination for Middle-earth fans, she said.

Hobbiton in Matamata received about 50,000 visitors every year, and recent projections predicted that would increase to about 150,000 in the next year, and up to 450,000 in the next three to five years, based on the release of the trilogy.

"If we pick up even 10 per cent of what will go through to Hobbiton, that's a significant economic benefit for the region," Ms Keene said.

Such visitors tended to be higher-spending fans who would be likely to stay several days and buy a significant amount of memorabilia while they were here.

Most Lord of the Rings fans had started off reading The Hobbit, so the release of the films was a big milestone for them, she said.

The campaign also had the support of none other than Gandalf the Grey.

Sir Ian McKellen, who plays the legendary wizard, told the tourism agency on his recent tour through the city: “I can't believe Nelsonians get to wake up in this perfect paradise every day.”

The campaign will include online marketing, social media advertising and close trade relationships with Middle-earth must-visits such as Hobbiton Movie Set Tours and Weta Workshop.

The campaign has been launched in Australia and is screening in cinemas and on television in New Zealand's major tourism markets this month and next.

The region will also host a large number of international media immediately before and after the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said the region should see significant benefits from the Hobbit films.

A survey of the target market of visitors to New Zealand had shown that the film being released increased their desire to come to the country.

"We anticipate that any region or business with a connection to the locations of the Hobbit movies is likely to see an increase of travellers seeking a Middle-earth experience."

The Nelson Mail