How Hobbits Kick-Started New Zealand's Tourism Industry

U.S. visits to “the real Middle-earth” are up 21% thanks to Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.

Jan 22, 2014 at 2:12PM

The Hobbit film trilogy draws to a close at the end of this year, capping a 13-year span of Tolkien-inspired films by director Peter Jackson. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, all shot in New Zealand, have been a big hit with fans, made money for Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), which owns studio New Line Cinema and distributor Warner Bros., and boosted New Zealand's travel industry. There are plenty of Hobbit fans who want to, as New Zealand's official travel site puts it, "explore the real Middle-earth." Global vacation travel to New Zealand rose by more than 10% between January and November of last year. The jump in the number of American vacationers was even larger.

Hobbiton By Hj Janisch

Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand. Photo: HJ Janisch

"We have seen an increase in visitor arrival numbers to New Zealand since the release of the first Hobbit movie. From January to November 2013 vacation arrival numbers from the U.S. into New Zealand are up 21.4% on the same period the previous year," said Gregg Anderson, GM Americas and Europe, Tourism New Zealand. The U.S. is the third largest market for New Zealand travel, after Australia and Germany, and Americans spend about $467 million (USD) in New Zealand each year. With the premiere of the last Hobbit film set for December of this year, the country's cinematic scenery will play to even more potential visitors.

This is good news for airlines that fly the US-NZ route, including United (NYSE:UAL), American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), and Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK). And it's good news for hotels, local tour operators, and especially for sheep and cattle farmer Russell Alexander, whose picturesque land has portrayed "Hobbiton" in Jackson's films since 1999. Per Alexander's deal with Jackson and New Line, Hobbiton is has become one of the country's most popular tourist draws, featuring set and offsite filming location tours, farm stays, and destination weddings in Hobbiton itself.

Of course, there are plenty of film sets and locations all over America for movie buffs to visit, and New Zealand is pretty far from the U.S.—a minimum of a 9-hour flight from Hawaii or 12 hours from Los Angeles. So what's getting Americans from theaters onto planes?

Popular inspiration

The reach of Jackson's and Tolkien's work is huge. The first of the Hobbit films, The Unexpected Journey, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. The second, The Desolation of Smaug, is still in theaters after its December release and has racked up nearly $250 million so far. Tolkien's book, first published 76 years ago, has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold more than 100 million copies, giving the stories worldwide, multigenerational appeal. The Lord of the Rings, which has been in print since the mid-1950s, has sold even more – 150 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books in the English language.

Smart Middle-earth marketing

Tourism New Zealand plays up New Zealand's Middle-earth status on a splashy landing page filled with film-location games, videos, maps, and a guidebook to Middle-earth sites that cleverly juxtaposes film stills with shots of visitors in the same spots. And because Jackson has made half a dozen Tolkien films here, there are plenty of places for movie fans to visit.

Timeless scenery, and lots of it

The large number of sites recognizable from the Hobbit and LOTR films is a nice piece of good fortune for New Zealand. Because filming locations are spread out from the top of the South Island to the bottom of the North, tourists are spreading their time and money among lots of different spots – and getting to see what else the country has to offer as they go. That's especially important with American visitors, who tend to be the most satisfied of all international travelers with their time in New Zealand, and therefore likely to encourage friends and family to check it out.

And because landscapes are a bit more permanent than movie sets, these destinations should appeal to visitors as long as the films and books do. Hobbiton's Alexander has said he expects the set on his property, complete with Hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn, to last at least 50 years. That durability is a good thing. The Hobbit: There and Back Again, is set for U.S. theatrical release in December, which will almost certainly spark a fresh wave of interest in Tolkien travel.

The next step

Want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this? The key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even gives you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Fool contributor Casey Kelly Barton has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers