Tourists arrive in Wellington for its famed film locations, but stay for the other experiences it has to offer.
If Hollywood is the film capital of the US, then Wellington is New Zealand’s. In Wellington, affectionately termed Wellywood, the film industry is the second largest employer.
Most notably, the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies catapulted the city into greater prominence not only in the film industry but also in tourism.
Scott Courtney, director of Rover Tours Group, said: “Before LOTR there were about five films made here. Since the first LOTR film, there has been nearly 200 (and counting).”
Tours themed around LOTR are Rover Tours Group’s best selling products.
“We have not seen any year where the demand for the tour was down since (the first film) was launched in 2001,” he said.
Having said that, famous film locations are not all that the city has to offer, as evidenced by the growing number of tourists visiting the city for overnight stays rather than just day tours.
Wellington has seen the average length of stay of tourists increase from point-zero night 10 years ago to around two nights today.
Philip Louie, trade and sales manager of Rover Tours Group, said: “(Traditionally), travellers followed the Golden route of Auckland down to Rotorua. They might get to Wellington, not to stay, but to catch the ferry to go to the South Island.
“We have started to see that change a little bit. A lot of this has to do with high season capacity in New Zealand where places like Rotorua and Napier are so overly done.”
Travellers are having to seek out less crowded spots to visit during high season – and Wellington fits the bill to a tee. “Our peak seasons particularly for accommodation are almost reversed. Being the country’s political capital, we receive the most visitors during the weekdays and in the middle of the year.
“If we look at the accommodation capacity on weekends and particularly around Christmas and New Years, Wellington hotels tend to be at their lowest occupancy. Hotel rates also tend to be lower on weekends than weekends,” Louie observed.
Furthermore, over the past 10 years, the tourism supply has been growing considerably since the Te Papa Museum opened in 1999. Local products like craft beer and coffee in particular have increasingly figured into tourists’ itineraries.
Helen Tickner, marketing manager of Tranzit Group, added: “Wellington may not attract first-time travellers to New Zealand, but repeat visitors enjoy the city because it offers something different. Brewery tours, for example, are popular.”
Meanwhile, Kapiti Island, which started off with day tours and domestic demand, has stepped up its offer to international tourists.
Len Yu, tourism trade specialist of Wellington Tourism, said that it is not realistic to expect travellers to come a long way only to visit Wellington – but visitors should stay a minimum of two nights in order to truly experience what the city has to offer.
“Wellington is very compact. Many activities take only half a day or a few hours, and one attraction is close to another. This allows travellers to have multiple activities within one day,” Yu said.
While this has worked well for daytrippers, tourism players will have no trouble piecing together overnight itineraries for visitors.
Yu remarked: “Wellington attracts those who are looking deeper into getting local experiences.”
Experiences such as behind-the-scene tours of beer breweries or chocolate factories, or having a meal hosted by a local family, tell the Wellington story to tourists.
In addition, Rover Tours Group, recently introduced the Seal Coast Safari, a half-day 4×4 tour to see the seal colony in the South Coast of Wellington.
As well, Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa, a major attraction in the city, has just added Te Taiao Nature, an interactive experience with specimens showcasing New Zealand’s unique environment.
Working in Wellington’s favour is Singapore Airlines’ recently launched services between Singapore and Wellington via Melbourne.
“Even if you arrive in Auckland, there is a flight to Wellington every 15 minutes, so accessibility is not really an issue,” Yu said.