The Trilogy that changed Tourism Marketing forever

Lord of the Rings trilogy changed Tourism MarketingIt was hard to see in 2003 that the excitement and buzz surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy would do anything but fade over time, regardless of the best efforts of tourism marketing. The huge Lord of the Rings Exhibition captured and packaged the incredible feat of film-making that Peter Jackson had embarked upon, giving insights into how a rampaging Orc army was created on screen and how a hobbit and a wizard were filmed side by side. It was the focal point for the avid fans that were already heading for the scenes and sites of the films, but at this stage, Lord of the Rings tours to New Zealand were in their infancy, and ‘hobbit hunters’ were largely independent travellers.

In 2004, six percent of international visitors cited the trilogy as a deciding factor in visiting New Zealand, with 1% citing the films as the only reason for their visit (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research), generating over $23.8million. Some ten years after the release of the final film, targeted marketing tourism has meant that the effects are still being felt, with Lord of the Rings tours continuing to grow in popularity, especially in US, UK and German markets.

The release of the Hobbit Trilogy, starting in December 2012, has once again given impetus to this trend, with the publication of the October-December 2013 International Visitor Survey showing some 14% of all international visits were influenced by the films. This, according to Tourism New Zealand, accounted for a growth in international visits that could not be explained by international economic and social factors. In terms of tourism, marketing the films has bought a lasting, quantifiable economic benefit to the country in a way that previous ‘location makers’ (Casablanca, The Beach) have not been able to do.

New Zealand has always had a wonderful reputation for adventure, nature and outstanding natural beauty, but never before has the country been able to so succinctly package its appeal to holiday makers abroad. The 100% Middle Earth, 100% Pure New Zealand Campaign has had fantastic results, with 21% of German visitors and 19% American visitors mentioning the campaign in their motivations for visiting, and there remain huge possibilities for tourism marketing to continue capitalising on the robust interest in the franchise.

An eye on the future

The adventure is certainly not over. Tourism New Zealand have committed to support the campaign throughout 2014 and 2015, and with the release of the final piece of the Hobbit trilogy marked for December 2014, there remain vast opportunities for good marketing to attract a tourist sector that may previously have overlooked New Zealand.

Whilst Tourism New Zealand’s flagship campaign has undoubtedly increased the tourist dollar arriving into New Zealand, its capture within the country is harder to capture absolutely. The Matamata region, home of Hobbiton, is the clearest direct benefactor, yet with other iconic locations, including Mt Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) in the Tongariro National Park, and sites around Golden Bay (Mount Olympus, in Kahurangi National Park provided the scenes in the Eregion Hills), alongside some 140 other locations, mean that in reality the options are almost endless for well designed packages and domestic tourism marketing.

New Zealand remains an independent traveller’s hot spot, with many tourists arriving with a desire to experience the world of Hobbits, yet without set plans or tours. The ability to package locations and attractions in organised tours has allowed tourist partners to pull together the many aspects of New Zealand tourism into an experience more accessible to less independent international travellers. International Visitor Survey data  from 2004 shows that whilst some 20,000 visitors explored Lord of the Rings set locations on organised tours, almost 30,000 visited them independently. The proven longevity of the appeal of film tourism, coupled with the assured boost provided by the release of the final Hobbit film ensures that the opportunities arising from Tolkien’s legacy will benefit New Zealand tourism for many years to come.

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