Hobbits keep the tourism tills ringing

Last updated 11:27 11/07/2014

UNEXPECTED VISITORS: The cliffs on the Denize family farm feature in the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey. Suzie Denize, pictured, has started a location tour company to show visitors around the film site near Piopio. bb

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The pitter-patter of hairy feet has attracted hobbit hunters to the Waikato.

The homes of the Hobbits have welcomed double the number of visitors this year, as tourism in the region increases.

The Accommodation Survey, just released by Statistics New Zealand, shows the Waikato has experienced a 15.5 percent increase on guest nights since last year.

Suzie Denize, who owns the Hairy Feet scenic film location tour near Piopio with her husband, Warrick, has been experiencing an unexpected amount of interest since they opened the site last November.

"We have been pleasantly surprised that people will come to visit us," said Suzie Denize.

The attraction mostly receives local New Zealand visitors, a third of whom have not seen the Hobbit films.

"A lot of people that aren't into the Hobbit films come to check out the scenery, even through howling gales!"

The nearby town of Piopio has recorded an increase in visitors, which has led to the opening of a motel and the first bar and eatery in the area.

"They are going from strength to strength," said Denize.

The company is not worried about the fate of their business when the excitement of the Hobbit is over.

"I don't think it will [drop off]. People have us on their bucket list and the movies highlighted what a pretty country we are."

Chief Executive of Motel Association NZ, Michael Baines, is happy with the figures.

"It's not short-term at all, it reflects what is happening in New Zealand. I think it could be the start of something really special."

Baines credits Waikato's increase on its national events, such as Fieldays and All Blacks games and would like to see more attractions to keep people in the Waikato longer. "The Waikato has come a long way. Hobbiton and Waitomo are fantastic, but we need a few more."

General manager of Hobbiton, Russell Alexander, said the attraction has seen a 100 per cent increase in visitors over the last year, with an additional 50 per cent increase on the last quarter, but he could not specify what had caused it.

"It's a whole range of things, including marketing and word of mouth. We have managed to break into the category of must-see attractions."

The company is always improving the set, adding more detail and developing the brand and Alexander estimated that 90 per cent of it's visitors were international, most of whom had not seen the films.

"[Hobbiton] probably has had an impact. We're driving hard. We are really pleased with the numbers."

Nancy EL-Gamel is a Wintec journalism student.

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- Waikato Times


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