The country's largest tourism trade show - Trenz - kicked off in Rotorua tonight with more than 800 tourism operators, world-wide buyers and media descending on Rotorua's Energy Events Centre.
The trade show began with a welcome function led by Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and Rotorua Lakes Council Kaitiaki Maori director Monty Morrison, followed by a stunning cultural performance by members of Te Arawa.
The Energy Events Centre was transformed into a New Zealand food market with VW Combi vans, caravans and outdoor barbecues serving up a selection of delicious Kiwi kai such as mussel fritters, barbeque scallops, venison sausages, fried bread and pavlova, accompanied by award-winning Volcanic Hills wine from Rotorua and Good George craft beer and cider from Hamilton.
Destination Rotorua trade manager Patrick Dault said the idea was to take visitors on a journey, "much like any Kiwi would during the gorgeous New Zealand summer".
"We wanted to show our guests that in Rotorua and New Zealand, informal doesn't mean unsophisticated. We have some of the best food and beverage offerings in the world and that is part of the great Kiwi experience," he said. Entertainment was provided by local talent with The Four Winds, Rotorua Musical Theatre and the Stella and Georgia Duo all performing during the evening with Kelly Makiha and Matt Evans headlining.
Jugglers performed tricks and the international guests were entertained by Hobbit sightings with some furry feet making an appearance from Matamata.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was a fitting launch for an important event which provided huge opportunities for the district.
"Rotorua people have grown up knowing the value of tourism and we have been hosts for more than 150 years," she said.
"We have a sensational local industry and Trenz attracts the most astute tourism buyers in the world. They will experience what makes Rotorua unique and see new offerings which have been launched in the past year - it's a huge opportunity for us," she said.
Millions of dollars worth of business is expected to be negotiated during the next three days with business meetings starting tomorrow morning and ending on Friday afternoon.
It is the second year in a row Trenz has been based in Rotorua with the most buyers coming to the event since 2007.
More than 350 influential travel and tourism buyers from 28 countries will meet with about 300 of the country's leading tourism operators during a total of more than 18,000 15-minute meetings over the course of the event.
Tourism Industry Association New Zealand chief executive Chris Roberts said buyers come to Trenz to purchase accommodation, transport and activities at wholesale rates to include in brochures, websites and itineraries for the coming international holiday seasons.
"Trenz will raise Rotorua's profile as a visitor destination and inject several million dollars into the local economy, including hotel accommodation, transport, meals, functions and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent staging the event," Mr Roberts said.
"Importantly, Trenz is bringing tourism business to Rotorua during what is typically a quieter time of the year.
"The place is already buzzing with activity and it's great to see local cafes and shops with signs welcoming the Trenz delegates to town."
To find out more, visit www.trenz.co.nz.