Fantasy is reality
Judging by Tourism New Zealand's presentation at Digital Day Out this morning, utilising The Hobbit isn't just one element of the Government's tourism strategy – it IS the Government's tourism strategy, at least for the next three years while Peter Jackson's latest trilogy plays out across the silver screen and DVDs worldwide.
And there's a good reason for this, says general manager of brand and international PR Catherine Bates. In 2001, The Lord of the Rings movies catapulted New Zealand into the spotlight as the premiere landscape and scenery destination in the world. She says following the launch of the first movie six percent of visitors said the movie franchise was one of the reasons for visiting New Zealand, while one percent (worth $33 million in expenditure) said it was the primary reasons for visiting.
"The Lord of the Rings cemented landscape as a key proposition for New Zealand tourism," says Bates.
Initial tourism figures for 2013 are showing a similar picture following the release of the first Hobbit movie late last year. Bates says this Summer saw a record number of visitors to the country, up nine percent in February and 13 percent in March (January saw a dip of two percent).
Tourism NZ in the digital realm
Bates says the latest Tolkien romp will tie into Tourism NZ campaigns online for the next three years as the trilogy rolls out. It includes what she calls Hobbit-heavy and Hobbit-light streams – the former targeting die-hard Lord of the Rings fans and the latter merely using the brand power.
This has includes partnerships with tourism brands such as Lonely Planet to create Hobbit-themed microsites and tie-in campaigns on NewZealand.com. As well as the activation of more than 100 of the world's top media visiting the country for The Hobbit premiere last year by providing video and photo content and opportunities for them to share back home.
"It's important for us to promote the destination and not the films themselves, which have multi-million dollars of marketing behind them," she says.
Tourism New Zealand's digital agency is Digital Arts Network. Managing director Che Tamahori says NewZealand.com is optimised from the ground up towards driving conversions, everything from button placements to the overall site strategy is informed by site analytics and user behavioural studies to best drive visitors from the site to New Zealand in real life.
One such example of analytics-led changes is the streamlining of business listings to make it quicker for visitors to be referred to partner sites such as tourism operators and airlines. After seeing users ping pong between business listings and product pages, the team at DAN put the relevant information and links directly in the search results page.
Site loading speed is crucial for driving conversions, says Tamahori. Using site speed measurement tool New Relic, the DAN team determined scripts from Facebook's sharing buttons were slowing down the page load. By refining when the buttons are set to load and lazyloading (only loading images in the browser when the user scrolls over it) – the site achieved a 35 percent increase in efficiency and now loads within three seconds from a cleared cache.
"Faster pages lead to more sales," he says.
By adopting a responsive design, Tamahori says NewZealand.com has achieved a 140 percent increase in mobile traffic and 45 percent increase in tablet visitors. The tablet numbers are important because behaviour observed on the site suggests that tablet visitors are more likely to be referred onto Tourism NZ's partner's – at a 16 percent referral rate, half a percent higher than desktop users. Mobile is currently around 11 percent, adds Tamahori.
If you create the right tablet experience, you're more likely to get better sell-through with that device, he says.