This week marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of the farm gates to visitors at the Hobbiton Movie Set site.

The location, near Matamata, was Peter Jackson’s choice for the creation of the fictitious village ‘Hobbiton’ used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Today Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours, run by the family who own the land, is a thriving business and has proven the skeptics wrong. During the five years over 130 000 visitors have taken the tour, with a trebling of numbers between years one and two. International visitors make up 80% of the customers, with the strongest marketing coming from the UK.

The release of the first Lord of the Rings movie ignited demand that initially took Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours Managing, Director Russell Alexander by surprise. “As demand from movie fanatics and those with idle curiosity grew, we engaged staff to provide guided tours around the movie set and share interesting anecdotes from the days of the filming”, he comments.

Over the years Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours has developed and enhanced the visitor experience. “We learned that to be sustainable in the tourism industry we had to keep developing the experience and adding new products that would generate customers long after the hype of the three movies had waned”, says Russell.

It is exactly three years ago tomorrow when The Shire’s Rest was opened by Prime Minister Rt Hon Helen Clark. The facility now provides dining for functions, events and special groups and also provides a base to conduct sheep shearing and dog trials. The Shire’s Rest was a transformation of the former farm woolshed located on the farm.

In February 2005 much of the energies were focused on providing the final night gala for cruise passengers on the Crystal Serenity – berthed in Tauranga. The mediaeval themed event provided entertainment for the 560 passengers and required 140 staff on the night to run the interactive evening.

Shuttle services were introduced in March 2004 to and from Rotorua, an hour away, making it more convenient for visitors to view Hobbiton from a Rotorua base.

Product development and innovation were only a few elements that contributed to the overall success and sustainability of the business. Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours also committed to a heavy schedule of international marketing activities which included participating with Tourism New Zealand promotional missions to Japan, Asia, and the US along with sales trips to Australia and UK. They have also participated in TRENZ and Meetings, which are both on-shore marketing activities aimed at the international travel agents and corporate agents respectively.

In addition there have been accolades along with way as the company achieved finalist status in the New Zealand Tourism Awards in 2005-6, won the Matamata Tourism Award and were a finalist and in the Services Category in the Waikato Regional Business Excellence awards. Russell Alexander was a finalist in the CEO of the Year Award, also in the Waikato Regional Business Excellence awards.

This week also coincides with the launch of a revamped website which provides web browsers with written information in eight languages, video, audio, an online booking mechanism and improved navigation.

As the business approaches the busy summer tourist season, Russell has every reason to be optimistic for the future. “The forward bookings for this summer are significantly up on previous years and the indications are that we’ll have another busy summer”, concludes Russell.