The big-screen exploits of Bilbo Baggins and a gang of dwarves are an "extraordinary opportunity" for tourism and will draw more people to New Zealand than the Rugby World Cup ever could, says the architect of the 100 per cent Pure campaign.
George Hickton said the The Hobbit films would generate more money and overseas interest than the All Blacks' win, and urged New Zealand businesses to do everything - including getting staff to "put on hairy feet" - to attract tourists.
He said The Hobbit's effect would be even bigger than The Lord of the Rings films.
"One of the things we have to do is get to understand the psyche of people who want to come and see it," he told a meeting of tourism figures in Hamilton yesterday. "This is bigger than last time. You need to be actively aware of what it looks like, what the story is.
"You need to talk about Hobbits, put on hairy feet. Do whatever you can to make sure that when people come to this place that you absolutely embrace it, that you 'get it'.
"Frodo Baggins is going to be more important to tourism than Daniel Carter kicking off in the Rugby World Cup."
Mr Hickton said Waikato businesses were the luckiest in the country with Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbiton film set "just down the road".
The set of The Shire, which features 44 "Hobbit holes", was first built on Russell Alexander's farm near Matamata for the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1999. Initially it was to be bulldozed but Mr Alexander turned the set into a tourism venture, Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours.
When filming began on the prequels to the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again, last year, the set was rebuilt using permanent materials and will remain as a tourism drawcard.
Mr Hickton said films sparked an emotive response in people, giving them an ongoing relationship with a country, and formed part of the decision-making process to travel there.
Statistics showed 80 per cent of Britons who planned a holiday here did so after seeing the film locations on the big screen.
Wellington's Weta Cave, a mini-museum joined on to Weta Workshop - the special effects artists behind Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, as well as the biggest-grossing movie of all time, Avatar - attracted 100,000 visitors, 70 per cent of them international, each year.
Hobbiton itself, the idyllic home of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, was the "premier" location of all the Middle Earth destinations in New Zealand, and attracted 266,000 people in the past 12 months, a 60 per cent increase because of renewed interest ahead of The Hobbit.