The tourism industry is gathering in Queenstown for its annual sales pitch to buyers from around the world, with high hopes the Hobbit movies will prove an irresistible lure to tourists.
Tourism Industry Association acting chief executive Grant Lilly said a survey showed that the summer had exceeded the expectations of about half of operators, with about a quarter saying it had been poor.
The Trenz tourism conference is taking place in Queenstown until Thursday and is expected to attract about 1000 delegates, including 308 invited international travel buyers from 32 markets and 280 exhibitors.
"I think the industry's come a long way over the last couple of years in getting better prepared to handle visitors from [Asian] markets and we're now seeing good evidence that that's working much better," Lilly said.
Operators that exhibited at last year's event said their attendance secured $164 million of new business during 12 months.
Lilly said difficult economic conditions in the European Union were affecting expenditure there and British holidaymakers were facing higher departure taxes.
A family of four in Britain would have to pay $736 in taxes just to leave the country and travel to New Zealand.
There was evidence that the tax might be counterproductive, he said.
"We'll keep trying to highlight that and pressuring it both as an industry and through political channels in order to encourage the UK Government to see it as a negative tax."
People around the world understood from the Lord of the Rings movies that New Zealand provided the backdrop to Middle Earth, Lilly said.
"And The Hobbit is just going to rekindle that awareness and probably we think achieve a boost for New Zealand better than Lord of the Rings because it is well understood that the movie is being made down here," he said.
"Viewers around the world are going to be looking at that scenery and thinking, 'Well of course that's New Zealand, doesn't it look pretty good'."
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said the industry would probably achieve more with the two Hobbit films, which come out in December this year and in 2013, than it did with Lord of the Rings.
A survey in 2004 found 6 per cent of visitors cited Lord of the Rings as being one of the main reasons for visiting the country and since that year an average of 47,000 international tourists a year have visited a film location.
"I think The Hobbit as a book, as a brand, is probably better known than Lord of the Rings and so I think we've got a massive opportunity to connect New Zealand as home of Middle Earth with the launch of the films and to elevate our story to a huge international audience," Bowler said.
New Zealand had had a challenging year with earthquakes, the impact of a cloud of volcanic ash and a late ski season.
"It's not been an easy 12 months but equally I think people are quite resilient and we are starting to now look at some of the new opportunities ahead of us," Bowler said.
"What we're signalling to the industry is that while we see the long-term growth from Asia as being very, very important we're not over-reacting to that and moving money out of those traditional markets that are also really important to New Zealand."
The commitment to Asia was about the same in the year ahead but Tourism New Zealand would spend a bit more in Southeast Asia, with an increased focus on Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.
"The global epicentre of commerce and growth, and therefore affluence, is remarkably moving away from those traditional markets into Asia, which I think is really exciting given that a lot of these countries are relatively close neighbours to us."
Bowler said Trenz was a great opportunity for operators to connect with buyers.By Owen Hembry Email Owen