A Chinese pop star living in Auckland - with more than 6.25 million followers on social media - is being seen as the answer to reversing declining visitor numbers from the Asian country.
href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12095049" target="_blank">Visitor numbers from China have been dropping, falling by about 20 per cent from last year, despite this being the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.
Ai Meng Meng, 36, a singer who has performed on live television to viewers numbering in the hundreds of millions, has been appointed as an official influencer for the NZ China Travel and Tourism Association.
Meng Meng's first encounter with NZ was an international student studying English in Hamilton six years ago. She fell in love with its clean, green beauty and friendly people, and decided to move here permanently in 2016.
"I love it here and feel so refreshed everyday, New Zealand is very different to China and its peaceful isolation makes this a perfect place for Chinese people to come and recharge," Meng Meng said.
"It is an honour to be given this role to promote New Zealand to people back home, I am not doing it for the money but because I genuinely love NZ."
Meng Meng gained popularity in China after being placed fourth in China's Super Girl television singing competition in 2006. The show, based on Simon Fuller's Pop Idol franchise, had a viewership of 280 million at its peak.
Meng Meng was a member of a rock band in Beijing and was performing in a bar when she was talent spotted by a television director who asked if she wanted to perform in televised competitions.
Now a mother of a 3-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son, Meng Meng said she was thrilled to have been asked by NZCTTA boss Simon Cheung to be its ambassador.
"It's given me a chance to show my fans that I haven't disappeared and to share my new life in my new country," she said.
"Through my posts as an influencer, I want to invite my fans and friends, all six million of them, to come and experience a little bit of my wonderful new life."
Cheung valued the advertising that would be generated by Meng Meng's post to be "in the millions".
"There is no one else living in New Zealand, I believe, that can gain the attention of the Chinese market or have a social media following of more than six million like Meng Meng," Cheung said.
"She is a perfect fit as an influencer to help us market New Zealand and make the destination popular to the Chinese again."
New Zealand currently gets around 450,000 of the 120 million outbound visitors from China, which remains our second biggest visitor market behind Australia in terms of both numbers and spend.
Meng Meng's appointment follows reports that the New Zealand government had spent $8 million on influencers since 2012 - the majority of it by Tourism New Zealand.
One trip from Jurassic Park star Bryce Dallas Howard alone, who posted from various locations including the Routeburn Track and The Landing, cost taxpayers $1 million.
Massey University marketing and China specialist Associate Professor Henry Chung said using influencers and social media "is one of the best ways to market NZ" to the Chinese.
"Using influencers is far more effective than traditional advertising methods in China," Chung said.
"Celebrities like Ai Meng Meng can be so influential, their referrals are priceless."