Hawke's Bay Tourism chairman George Hickton this week received the tourism industry's most prestigious individual accolade, the Sir Jack Newman award, at the New Zealand Tourism Industry Awards in Auckland.

Mr Hickton joined Hawke's Bay Tourism in 2011 after 10 years at the helm of Tourism New Zealand from 1999 to 2009, during which time he drove the development of the 100% Pure New Zealand international marketing brand.

Speaking from Auckland yesterday, he said he had no inkling that he would be an award recipient on Thursday.

"I have been a judge of these awards and I went up there on their invite, as well as to support Hobbiton who were up for some awards.


"I was surprised to get it."

The judges said the tourism industry continued to benefit from Mr Hickton's inspirational leadership, which along with his Hawke's Bay Tourism role included being a Weta Workshop director, and Hobbiton board member.

Since joining Hawke's Bay Tourism, at a time when it was in a transition phase from its previous incarnation, Venture Hawke's Bay, he said tourism in the region had gone from strength to strength.

"The whole purpose was to develop a dedicated tourism agency that the industry was confident in, then get some profile for the region and tourism growth.

"All of those things have happened, and we are heading into one of the best seasons ever in coming months."

New Zealand tourism was on a high with the international market, he said, and Hawke's Bay was enjoying the benefits of that. "We're getting a better slice of that international market than we used to get, we are included in itineraries more and are presenting ourselves better, being true to what the region offers such as extraordinary food and wine with a magnificent landscape and climate." After so many years in the industry, his passion had not wavered.

"I love it - by and large those in the tourism industry are very positive and people focused, you can't do a good job hosting people unless you love it."