- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

The Hobbits' journey through Middle-earth has helped put New Zealand on the map.
The South Pacific island country, where "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was filmed, is reaping the benefits of two blockbuster hits as tourists flock to New Zealand for a quest of their own.
"Without a doubt, 'Lord of the Rings' has been one of those huge opportunities that comes along and adds strength to what you are already doing in the marketplace," said Gregg Anderson, regional director in North America for Tourism New Zealand, the country's official tourism group. "The heightened media profile I suspect has helped with visitor arrival."
New Zealand had more than 2 million visitors from November 2001 to November 2002 doubling international arrivals in the past decade, said Tourism New Zealand. It was the first time the country hit the 2-million-visitor mark. The number of American visitors rose 7.2 percent, to 201,448, from the previous year.
Mr. Anderson said the "Lord of the Rings" movies, which were shot in 150 locations throughout New Zealand, were reinforcing tourism officials' longtime marketing efforts.
"Without a doubt, people have gone into the theater and said, 'Stunning,'" Mr. Anderson said. "It will influence enormously people's thoughts and feelings of New Zealand."
"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was created by author J.R.R. Tolkien beginning in 1954 and brought to life on the big screen by Kiwi director Peter Jackson. The movie phenomenon started in December 2001 with the release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." A year later, "The Two Towers" hit the box office. The third and final movie, "The Return of the King," will be released in December.
It is difficult to pinpoint a variable that has contributed to New Zealand's increase in tourism, but officials agree that "The Lord of the Rings" certainly has helped and has opened the country to a broader audience.
"I think [the movies] have contributed to the overall awareness of New Zealand," said Lucy Powell, communications manager at Air New Zealand. "It has pushed New Zealand in the realm of pop culture."
Kiwi businesses have started using "The Lord of the Rings" tie-ins.
Air New Zealand is now "the official airline to Middle-earth."
The airline, which has a joint partnership with "Lord of the Rings" distributor New Line Cinema, has painted one of its 747 planes with an image of Hobbits Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, and Sam, played by Sean Astin. Later this month, the airline will introduce a smaller plane with Liv Tyler's character, Arwen, and Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen.
Newmans South Pacific Vacations also is reaping the benefits of the movies' success. The Los Angeles travel agency began offering "Lord of the Rings" travel packages just before the release in theaters of "The Fellowship of the Ring." The agency has sold 153 packages, which include 10- or 14-day journeys through "Middle-earth."
Wayne Stening, president of the agency, said the movies have attracted visitors who are interested in exploring New Zealand's landscape.
"The panorama of those New Zealand shots grab their attention," he said. Plenty of "Lord of the Rings" fans are interested in reliving the epic journey, he added.
Mr. Stening, a New Zealand native, said inquiries about the country and special packages have increased with the debuts of the first two movies in theaters and after the release of "The Fellowship of the Ring" on digital video disc in August. He expects interest to spike again when the current film goes to DVD and the final film is released.
Nomad Safaris has been touring New Zealand for 12 years, said owner David Gatward-Ferguson, and business has grown 2 to three times from last summer.
"It is 'The Lord of The Rings' that has elevated New Zealand [to] a must do," Mr. Gatward-Ferguson said in an e-mail. "And any company embracing this passion has seen an increase in sales, some by a little, some by a lot."
The movies' popularity may translate into business for New Zealand's convention business as well, officials say.
"Unlike leisure travel which often is spur of the moment and can be directly affected by movies, TV exposure, etc., our sector is more strategic by nature, and any business generated is generally seen months if not years after the event which may have motivated the desire to come here," Alan Trotter, chief executive of Conventions & Incentives New Zealand, said in an e-mail.
"We certainly see huge potential in exposure terms from the movie and believe that this exposure will ultimately be translated into confirmed business."

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