'Hobbit' fever, celebrity bride tipped to lift tourism

The Hobbit movie and the wedding of a Chinese actress are expected to help lift tourism spending from its lowest level in more than a decade.

Figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show spending last year fell 6 per cent on 2011 to $5.4 billion, on a 2 per cent fall in visitor numbers.

A tourism slip was expected after the 2011 Rugby World Cup but last year's spending figure was the lowest since 2001.

Spending by British tourists fell the most, down 21 per cent to $469 million, while Chinese visitors upped their spending a sizeable 42 per cent to $651m.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said about two-thirds of the spending decline could be explained by the cup.

"The other third is a slightly softer arrivals market and a change in mix towards shorter- stay tourists visiting friends and relatives," he said.

The British tourist market, the third-biggest market behind Australia and China, had been hit by the downturn in Europe and the weakening of the pound compared with the kiwi dollar.

However, the Japanese market had recovered after the natural disasters of 2011.

Growth in Chinese spending was "extraordinarily strong", and outstripped the 35 per cent leap in visitor numbers.

Bowler was optimistic tourist spending would improve this year, partly thanks to The Hobbit.

The NewZealand.com website had received a record 1.55 million unique visitors last month, while airlines and travel agents overseas were reporting growing interest.

"A lot of it has been the association with the film."

Chinese actress Yao Chen, whose blog has 38 million followers, wed in Queenstown in November, prompting interest from couples in China.

"It really got people talking about New Zealand as a . . . premium destination." Fairfax NZ

Taranaki Daily News