Where is New Zealand's Walt Disney?


Watching  the new Tourism New Zealand advertisement for 100 per cent Pure NZ makes me cringe. This new multi-million dollar campaign paid for by our tax dollars tries to convince people New Zealand is actually JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth, and so that's a good reason to take an expensive plane trip for 14 hours or more.

A theme of the new marketing strategy, according to Tourism New Zealand boss Kevin Bowler, is "New Zealand: where fantasy meets reality". But that's just laughable.

"Where giant eagles once guarded the skies," begins the advertisement, begging the question of what's flying around now because they are extinct, which is soon answered with "Where metal hawks soar" as footage is shown of a helicopter flying around the mountains. "Where the people of the land can fly" continues the voiceover as a man is shown jumping from a rope swing into some water.

By its own admission, Tourism New Zealand said previous advertising images of rolling hills, lush bush and green pastures had given the impression New Zealand was beautiful, yet deserted, and visitors would struggle to find anything to do.

How the new 100 per cent Pure ad is any different is beyond me.

Mr Bowler told a conference in June: "A heck of a lot of people are going to come here, not principally because of the films but they will be affected by the films."

But if you are a tourist looking for a true "Middle Earth" experience in New Zealand with wizards and dragons and hobbits you will be sorely disappointed.

You can visit the Hobbiton village in Matamata for a 2-hour studio tour of the facade of a hobbit village. But there's no hobbits, dragons or wizards wandering around. "There are spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges ... we also offer you the opportunity to cuddle and bottle feed the pet lambs," says the website introduction to Hobbiton.

The one tourist attraction which people "affected by the Hobbit films" can actually touch and experience is promoting nice scenery and feeding pet lambs out of a bottle. At Disneyland you can get a photo with Mickey Mouse, while Hobbit fans get to feed a pet lamb.

Then there's the Weta Cave in Wellington. This pokey little building contains a small theatre, which plays an inspiring but brief film about Weta. Compare that to the 4D theatres in the United States where water splashes in your face and snakes appear to slither around your feet while creatures jump out at you on the screen. Where would you be heading?

Not to mention Sir Peter Jackson introducing an incredible 4D surround studio where you are immersed in King Kong's dinosaur-filled world. It was stunning but why don't we have this in "Wellywood"?

What the Americans do particularly well is leveraging off Hollywood to build theme parks and restaurants, such as the chain of Forrest Gump restaurants. The "Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company" restaurants are complete with merchandise shops and a whole Forrest Gump experience.

So what about a chain of "Hobbit Inns" showcasing New Zealand's best food and wine in a Middle Earth themed menu? If all these tourists are supposedly flocking here because of the hobbit, that's the first place they would go. Think of the films New Zealand is associated with. King Kong, Lord of the Rings, District 9, Tin Tin and Narnia. The list goes on. What has happened to all the costumes and props? Dress up as an orc and get your photo taken. Stand in front of a green screen and be inserted into your favourite Tin Tin scene. The possibilities are endless but why are they not happening?

"New Zealand is too small," I hear you say. "The United States is so much bigger."

But bigger is not always better.

While at Legoland in California, we visited the water theme park. They had a flowing river just like Splash Planet in Hastings. The only difference was at Legoland we had to stand in a queue in the hot sun for half an hour before we could enjoy it. Here you can just jump in. And that is a huge point of difference. We should support Splash Planet more, as it is an example of what we need more of to get tourists here.

Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor have done admirable things for the local film industry. But sadly, it would appear, they are no Walt Disney. And what we desperately need is a Walt Disney.

Maybe then we wouldn't have to try to fool tourists into coming here by promising the sight of "flying metal hawks" that are really just ordinary helicopters.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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