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Current as of 19/09/14 02:00PM NZST

Owen Hembry

Business news editor of the New Zealand Herald

Auckland Airport taps Chinese star's appeal

Auckland International Airport has brought a Chinese TV star with an online following of millions to New Zealand to promote the tourism industry to the fast-growing market in China.

Dong Xuan arrived on Saturday for a 10-day trip, including a Waiheke Island vineyard tour, shearing in Rotorua and jetboating near Queenstown.

The airport said Dong was an extensive blogger and user of social media, with a fan base of more than 3.2 million people on Weibo - the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.

After Dong has completed her trip, wholesale partners will offer Chinese visitors the chance to follow in her footsteps on a "Dong Xuan experience tour", with differing tiers to cater for price ranges.

The tour will be marketed via the media and traditional advertising in China, as well as through social media channels.

Auckland Airport - which is working with wholesale partners in China - with support from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, said Dong was known for romantic dramas and TV series and her trip to New Zealand had already received extensive coverage across China on radio, in newspapers and online.

"Being in New Zealand is like a natural detox," Dong said. "The cleanness makes me feel great, and the lifestyle makes me feel really relaxed."

Auckland Airport general manager for aeronautical commercial Glenn Wedlock said the promotional trip presented the Chinese market with more premium products as well as genuine New Zealand experiences such as shearing.

Using people such as celebrities who were seen as influential could help establish the sort of positioning that was wanted in terms of the market and trying to inform people about the variety and quality of product, Wedlock said.

"We're very used to maybe markets that want to go tramping etc or bungy jumping but actually this is a market which is emerging which wants an urbanised product but then mixed in with seeing the scenery ... [and] being able to shop etc."

The project was trying to create a clear connection between what was being talked about in an online space and what product could be bought, he said.

"That's what experience has told us in the past, when you have a promotion like a TV show ... people actually want to buy that."

There was growth of New Zealand as a solo destination, although the country was still largely part of a combined trip with Australia.

"We'll see that market start to mature and split so I think the key for us is to make sure we're positioning it right."

- NZ Herald

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