AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Travel Agent was on hand Monday morning for the opening press conference of TRENZ, New Zealand's biggest trade show of the year and learned that travel from the U.S. increased a whopping 24 percent for the month of March mainly due to the popularity of the Peter Jackson film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Travel from the U.S. rose 8.9 percent in February, compared to the same period last year, and 24 percent in March, says Kevin Bowler, CEO for Tourism New Zealand and one of four members of the opening panel that also included Martin Snedden CEO for Tourism Industry Association New Zealand; Christopher Luxon, CEO of Air New Zealand and Adrian Littlewood, CEO of the Auckland Airport.
Bowler told Travel Agent he attributes the whopping increase in March to to the immensely popular The Hobbit Trilogy, a series of fantasy films directed by Jackson and set in New Zealand. The first installment premiered this past summer. In fact, Luxon told Travel Agent that Air New Zealand's online bookings increased roughly 10 percent immediately after "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was released.
"We know that there is not a shortage of Americans who want to come to New Zealand, but they need something to trigger them and the first Hobbit film was one of those things," Bowler told Travel Agent.
Some emerging markets for New Zealand include India, Indonesia and South America, while the destination's core markets continue to be the U.S.,Canada, China and Australia. Luxury continues to be a niche market New Zealand is looking to target out of the U.S. simply because a strong New Zealand economy has resulted in increased cost to travel to the destination.
"We are not going to apologize for the fact that our economy is doing so well, but we realize that means we need to put a heavy focus on that market, on attracting those people who could afford it," he says.
As far as flights go, Luxon told Travel Agent that Air New Zealand will look into expanding to some new emerging markets in the U.S. somewhere down the line, but is currently focused on adding flights to existing U.S. markets. In fact, Luxon says in the winter months, Air New Zealand plans to increase service from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"Right now, we are only focused on deepening the daily services that we already have in the U.S.," says Luxon, "but we will also be looking into digging a little deeper in the U.S. to extract some of that gold out."
And to help "extract some of that gold out," Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key recently released details of Budget initiatives for tourism, including roughly $28 million for business events and $17 million to attract very high-value visitors. As part of a larger internationally-focused growth package, the Government is investing an additional $132 million in tourism through Budget 2013 to attract more visitors to New Zealand, particularly high-spending visitors.
As far as attendance for TRENZ goes, there are more than 1,000 people here, including roughly 290 international buyers from 27 markets, 252 New Zealand exhibitors, roughly 27 international media and 21 domestic media.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates from TRENZ, which runs through Wednesday.