New Zealand makes use of ‘Hobbit’ films

New Zealand makes use of ‘Hobbit’ films

WELLINGTON - Agence France-Presse
New Zealand makes use of ‘Hobbit’ films

A giant Gollum creature from the ‘Hobbit’ movie catches a fish on the ceiling of Wellington Airport in New Zealand. AFP photo

From a giant, bug-eyed Gollum sculpture looming over passengers at Wellington Airport to promotional banners covering the facades of office blocks, the upcoming “The Hobbit” movie is impossible to ignore in New Zealand.

Tourism chiefs, hoping to recreate the surge in visitors inspired by the original “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, have launched a massive marketing campaign around director Peter Jackson’s latest Middle Earth three-parter.

“The Hobbit” movies use New Zealand’s mountainous scenery as a backdrop, amounting to what some tourism insiders gleefully describe as a nine-hour-long advertisement for the country’s rugged charms.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler says the films offer the country invaluable global exposure that can be converted into increased visitor arrivals. “We aim to show potential travellers that the fantasy of Middle Earth is in fact the reality of New Zealand,” he said.

But behind the hype, official figures show the first of the new movies “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” cannot come soon enough for an industry struggling for momentum almost a decade on from the original Middle Earth saga.

New Zealand’s international visitor arrivals jumped from 1.5 million to 2.4 million between 2000 and 2006 on the back of “The Lord of the Rings” films, but have remained flat at about 2.5 million for the past four years.

Tourism operator David Gatward-Ferguson said that when the first “Rings” film was released in 2001, the industry was surprised by the influx of visitors wanting to travel to places featured in the movie.