"By their fruits ye shall know them". This famous biblical incantation epitomises the career of George Hickton, a man who, as his nominator Mike Hutcheson says, has probably done more to make New Zealand globally famous than anyone except Peter Jackson.
Hickton, who was appointed as chief executive at the New Zealand Tourism Board in April 1999, drove dramatic changes at the organisation. Prior to his arrival, it was widely criticised as overly bureaucratic and out of touch with the industry. It is still government funded and it is still officially the Tourism Board, but beyond that it’s a very different, increasingly marketing-led beast that has a much better relationship with the trade and spends a lot more on promotion than on subsidising other businesses.
The highlight of his tenure—and his career—is undoubtedly the launch of the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign in 1999, which positioned the country squarely in the adventure and eco-tourism markets and is now recognised as one of, if not the, leading country brand in the world.
Due in large part to his vision, New Zealand now welcomes more than two million visitors a year, up from 1.5 million in 1999. Importantly, each visitor is also spending more: total earnings from international tourism have almost doubled from $3.6 billion to $6.1 billion in that time. And the figures are all the more impressive when you consider Tourism New Zealand’s total global operating budget of only $55 million.
Prior to his Tourism New Zealand role, Hickton was chief executive of the TAB, taking it into the era of sports betting, and also worked as general manager of The New Zealand Income Support Service, general manager of the New Zealand Employment Service, general manager sales and marketing at Honda New Zealand, and industrial relations manager at Ford.
He understands that true marketing is a way of running a business with the end customer in view. And he has a simple formula for instilling this fundamental truth: ensure there is a commitment to and understanding of where the organisation is going; create a very strong internal communication process to keep staff in the loop; and be a good leader and stand up and be counted on what’s important for the organisation.
He has applied these rules in every business he has run and, from the launch of the Honda City to the giant 100% Pure rugby ball that travelled the globe and brilliantly promoted New Zealand in the years leading up the Rugby World Cup, his career has been paved with a host of marketing successes.