Research conducted by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) has shown tourism marketing efforts that promote New Zealand as the real-life ‘Middle-earth’ have made a significant and quantifiable impact on visitor arrivals.

The research, commissioned by Tourism New Zealand, shows that growth in arrivals from long-haul visitor markets in 2013 outstripped the markets’ economic recovery and growth in outbound tourism.

The study also revealed New Zealand attracted more international visitors than economic factors alone could account for.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive, Kevin Bowler, said the remaining growth can be attributed to the organisation’s Middle-earth marketing campaign, which capitalises on the popularity of The Hobbit movie franchise.

“The six per cent growth we saw for the year ending December 2013, and the continuing growth of seven per cent through to year-end February 2014, is the kind of growth not seen in a decade.

“What NZIER found was that marketing factors were having a considerable impact in five long-haul markets. And the strongest of these factors was the impact of New Zealand’s association with Middle-earth and the new Hobbit films,” he said.

“This finding is backed up by the October – December 2013 International Visitor Survey that showed 14 per cent of holiday arrivals said The Hobbit trilogy was a factor in influencing their decision to visit New Zealand.

“A decade ago in 2004, following the release of the final film in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that figure was only six per cent.

“The Hobbiton website receives the most direct traffic of all the operators on Tourism New Zealand’s consumer website,” Mr Bowler said.

“Hobbiton receives about twice as many clicks from our site as the next biggest attraction.”

Mr Bowler said with a third movie still to be released and legacy attractions like Hobbiton in place, there is an opportunity to keep Middle-earth demand strong for some time.

“With the launch of ‘Tourism 2025 – growing value together/whakatipu uara ngatahi’ last month, the industry is in good shape to work together to capitalise on the growth we have been achieving.

“And with the additional government funding committed to Tourism New Zealand over four years, the organisation has the resources to keep building momentum through to the end of the Middle-earth phase and beyond.”

Other factors contributing to the growth in visitor arrivals include improved economic conditions following the global financial crisis, exchange rates, country-specific taxes, and increased air capacity.