This week I got my first glimpse of the new Peter Jackson epic, "The Hobbit" and it got me to thinking, will this provide the next wave of tourism to New Zealand?
Released in the UK on 13th December the film, like its predecessors The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was filmed in New Zealand.
Where fantasy becomes reality
Fantasy landscapes of snow capped mountains and rolling green hills are actually a reality in New Zealand so it's no wonder people are eager to visit.
In fact a survey in 2004 following the release of the third film, the Return of the King found that between 120-150,000 tourists visited New Zealand because of the Lord of the Rings movies.
I've been to New Zealand three times since the original trilogy and although I'm a huge fan I've never been drawn to dressing up as an elf and embarking on one of the several tours around that country that visit the areas in which they were filmed.
However I may be alone in that as since 2004 47,000 visitors each year have visited a film location.
One place I would like to visit is the fictional hamlet of Hobbiton, in the hills near Matamata, a location that alone attracts 20,000 tourists per year.
Built upon the existing Alexandra Farm in the Waikato region of the North Island the "Shire" was constructed over eight months in 1999. As many film sets were dismantled after filming had finished, Hobbiton was rebuilt and now functions as a place for fans to congregate for two hour set tours and farm stays.
100% Middle Earth as New Zealand prepares for the Hobbit Trilogy
Promotions have already began with the official tourism slogan of "100% New Zealand" being revamped to "100% Middle Earth"
Air New Zealand have also got in on the Hobbit action with their brilliant air safety video.
It seems the tourist board and the country's tourism industry is well prepared to garner all the attention that the trilogy will send their way. Whereas following the original trilogy almost ten years ago, New Zealand tourist operators had to react rather than be proactive as thousands of fans demanded to see real life film sets.
In an interview with the Guardian Melissa Heath, owner of Southern Lakes Sightseeing, said that "I don't think anyone in New Zealand was ready for it." Today the company runs a purely Lord of the Rings focused tour and may well see visitors flocking to see the latest sets.
So will 2013 see a new wave of tourists eager to see the new locations, which are still to be revealed? My guess is that they will and that can only mean good news for New Zealand. One thing is for sure, on our next visit to New Zealand I may have to don my Hobbit feet and head to the Shire.
Have you been to any Lord of the Rings set locations in New Zealand? What was your experience?
Photo credit: Joshua Eckert