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September 30, 2014updated Dec 20, 2023

Justin Watson, Director of Trade, PR and Major Events for Tourism New Zealand

By Neharika Padala

By Alanna Lawson

Ever contemplated a trip to the bottom of the world? Ever tried your hand at mountaintop golf, or hiked up a volcano? For those contemplating a trip to New Zealand, now is your time. Justin Watson, Director of Trade, PR and Major Events for Tourism New Zealand tells us why.

ET: For many people New Zealand is a world away; what are its major draw-cards for the high-end traveler?

JW: What really draws people to New Zealand is the pure New Zealand experience, the ability to interact and experience a beautiful natural environment, and the diversity of that environment. New Zealand has fiords, it has desserts, it has amazing beaches, wineries, rain forests, you’ve got the whole world in one place.

ET: A lot of people only know of New Zealand as the location for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (LOTR), how are you working to develop this perception?

JW: What the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) set up for New Zealand (and events such as the Rugby World Cup and America’s Cup) is that it reinforced the image that the country is a stunningly beautiful place. So the scenery out of LOTR and the Hobbit really showcases that; amazing vistas, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers. Our 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand campaign develops this further by overlaying the experiences people can have within that setting, by adding in the people, the experiences and the culture.

ET: New Zealand has been remarkably resilient in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), why do you think this is?

JW: With events such as the GFC and the Christchurch earthquake, sure we slowed down a little bit, but even after that really unfortunate event New Zealand’s been able to continue to grow overall as a tourist destination because of the wide variety of other locations and places to visit.

New Zealand is a multi-dimensional location, visitors don’t tend to fly in and stay in the same place all week – rather New Zealand is a touring destination. So despite the situation in Christchurch there are still plenty of other places people can visit. We are seeing Christchurch start to come back and in and around Christchurch there are still some really amazing high-end products for the luxury traveler. The likes of Otahuna lodge on the way to Banks Peninsular and recently Annandale, which are truly stunning high-end properties.

ET: How would you recommend seeing New Zealand?

JW: What people tend to do is they will come into New Zealand and then visit anywhere between three to four locations, staying in three to five lodges. So whether that’s Auckland, Bay of Islands, Hawkes Bay, one or two days around there, then Rotorua, or visiting Wellington, Wairarapa, Christchurch, Queenstown. But it is the diverse range of experiences offered in each region that makes New Zealand so appealing.

ET. Water sport and activities are integral to New Zealand tourism; can you tell us about the recent initiative launched to develop the super yacht sector?

JW: We believe that New Zealand has been under-selling itself as a super yacht cruising destination for owners or charters to come down and to cruise the shorelines and coastlines. We’ve got amazing coastline, really diverse experiences all the way up and down the country, from the Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, up to the Bay of Islands. Time and time again we hear people that do come here on their super yachts have an amazing time and absolutely love the experiences that they have, we just want to get a lot more of them.

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ET: UHNW individuals spend a lot on experiential extras like adventure travel. What does New Zealand offer the adventure seeker?

JW: New Zealand has carved out a world-class position as an adventure destination, and especially locations like Queenstown are full of adventure. New Zealand caters very strongly to the high-end market and is continuing to develop new product in this space. Providing experiences set in an amazing location is what New Zealand excels at.

For example there is Minaret Station just outside of Wanaka with its luxury tented set of four cabins, similar to what you’d experience in South Africa where it’s very high-end. The location is only accessible by helicopter, so there’s no way you could ever drive there. You fly in and base yourself there to heli-ski, heli-bike, go walking, go hunting, and have a truly authentic experience.

We’ve got broad range of ‘hard-core’ adventure activities through to ‘soft’ adventure. Experiences like helicopter flights out to a glacier, walking along the glacier and having a glass of champagne. Or flying over to the West Coast, landing on a pontoon in one of the Sounds in the Marlborough Sounds and having freshly cooked whitebait prepared for you.

Then there is a new experience just out of Queenstown called Over the Top Golf, which offers a golf hole where you tee-off the top of a mountain and hit down to a green a few hundred metres below.


ET: Another of the country’s distinctive features is the Maori culture. What are the country’s best cultural experiences?

JW: New Zealand has a wide range of different cultural experiences. You can visit Te Puia in Rotorua, where you can see Maori carvers producing beautiful artworks, see geysers and watch their Kapa Haka group. Or there is Whale Watch Kaikoura, which would probably be a flagship South island Maori experience, where they tell big stories about the Maori history of the region and how it relates to the whales in the area.

Increasingly we are seeing a trend toward people wanting a really authentic, personalised Maori cultural experience. That might be enjoying a private Hangi (traditional Maori meal cooked using heated rocks buried in a pit oven) next to a beach somewhere, or staying on a Marae (sacred meeting house). Again they are not necessarily the mass-market experiences but they are highly tailored and bespoke.

ET: What are your plans for tourism development in New Zealand for the near future?

JW: There is a new focus on developing products specifically targeting the HNW market. We are a year into targeting the premium sector and have additional funding from the Government to specifically target high-value visitors, which includes the super yacht market.

We are also focusing heavily on special interest activities, such as our new cycle trails throughout the country, or promoting New Zealand as a walking and hiking destination, or for fly-fishing.

We’ve got some major events coming up. IN 2015 there is the ICC Cricket World Cup and the FIFA Under 20’s. There is also the World Masters Games 2017, which will attract a number of people from the UK and Europe and the final Hobbit movie is scheduled for release in December this year.

The Hobbit has played a significant part of the growth of arrivals as it raises New Zealand’s profile to a point where for a lot of people who have the country on their bucket list, it’s enough of a trigger to book the trip to visit.

If hiking Mount Tongariro or drinking champagne atop a glacier is on your bucket list, read more on New Zealand here

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