Celebrity boosts region

WIDELY FOLLOWED: Chinese actress Yao Chen and husband Cao Yu when they married in Queenstown.
WIDELY FOLLOWED: Chinese actress Yao Chen and husband Cao Yu when they married in Queenstown.

A famous Chinese actress who rivals Lady Gaga in celebrity popularity, has been hosted in Nelson Tasman, visiting the region's tourism jewels.

Nelson Tasman Tourism international marketing manager Loren Heaphy said Yao Chen was photographed in the region's main tourist and scenic hot spots on Friday.

It was part of a Tourism New Zealand marketing campaign fronted by Yao Chen to help attract more Chinese tourists to the country, and encourage them to venture beyond New Zealand's tourism golden route - Auckland-Rotorua-Queenstown.

Yao Chen is Tourism New Zealand's China Brand Ambassador and has 26.2 million followers on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter and Facebook.

Tourism New Zealand says she is one of the top five most followed micro-bloggers in the world after Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, and ahead of US President Barack Obama.

"We tend to be off the beaten track for Chinese visitors and we hope that the Yao Chen campaign will change that, creating awareness of the area and the unique visitor experiences available to travellers. Millions of people will see this campaign, and to have Yao Chen attached to it gives it so much more power," Mrs Heaphy said.

She confirmed Yao Chen visited Abel Tasman National Park, but said she was unable to give away any more details until the campaign was released on December 6.

"What I can say is that they visited what I would consider our key tourism jewels," she said.

For the year ended September visitor arrivals from China exceeded those from the US for the first time, and were the third biggest source of visitors behind Australia and Britain.

In Nelson-Tasman Chinese visitors were the ninth biggest source of visitors and the region hoped to see more free independent tourists from China, she said.