Good Hobbits lead to precious Economic Development initiatives

How do you turn a fairy tale into a fairly lucrative economic initiative for a small agricultural district in the Shaky Isles?  You have to get in to the Hobbit!

Small New Zealand town captures a big initiative.

This week’s blog posting was delayed pending my arrival back from New Zealand where I had a business commitment. Whilst there I took a couple of days R&R with my wife and as part of our wanderings we spent a most enjoyable day at a little place, called Matamata, not far from Cambridge in the North Island of New Zealand.Hobbithole2

Historically, Matamata is a sheep farming and vegetable cropping area. However at present and for the next few years its fame will centre around its location as the film is set for the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit trilogies. The film set was formerly part of the Alexander sheep farm which is still a working sheep business but now accommodates a constant flow of tourists and Tolkien fans in their busloads to what is now known as Hobbiton.

Although the visit to the Hobbit holes and gardens was itself a wonderful experience, as was the visit to the newly opened Green Dragon Tavern, with its own locally brewed Hobbit beer, equally educational was the conduct of the tourism business focused on this unique asset.

Building a business out of a hole in the ground.

The business arrangement between the landowner and the film studio is mutually beneficial. The Studio maintains rights to access and use the facilities to film possible sequels and promotional packages and continues to exercise its copyright over the images. The landowner in return is licensed to operate the visiting tours whilst safeguarding and maintaining the site.

With the imminent release of the first of the Hobbit trilogy the prospects for a very lucrative tourism industry are high not only for the Alexander farm management but for the town and district of Matamata.

matamatavicThe Visitors Information Centre has been transformed into a Hoobbit house and many local businesses have adopted the same theme in their facades. It is likely to turn into an economic development bonanza for this previously sleepy locality. Increasing investment in public facilities and infrastructure is clearly obvious and is predicated upon the anticipated visiting population of between 200,000 to 250,000 people per annum. Tourism New Zealand anticipates this new influx to be worth around $NZ500m to the national economy.

Local business is booming and new coffee shops and eateries are being established to serve the catering needs of the crowds who are and will be invading the area for some time to come. Products ranging from hats, souvenirs, umbrellas, sunscreens, and all manner of food and drink will be consumed in growing volumes. The financial throughput potential is signalled by the blossoming of colourful Automatic Teller Machines at most street corners.

The face of the business is a precious jewel.

The excitement of being part of the Hobbiton experience is clear in the faces and demeanour of the staff involved, from the bus drivers to the gardeners and from the catering staff to the tour guides. Everyone is thoroughly committed to a service attitude and to theOldmill environmental protection of the site. Our tour guide could even quote the botanical names of flowers and trees on the site. As our bus was leaving the site the driver noticed a small child wandering alone toward the front road. The driver immediately stopped the bus and dismounted to help reunite the child with her parents. Such a culture of service and dedication to the business is not accidental, but the product of hard work by the business owner to ensure the sustainability of this unique asset.


The Old Mill and Bridge

With staff numbers reported to be in excess of eighty this is no dwarf business. Some minor growing pains are apparent in the logistics of moving visitors to, from and around the site but still there is an air of competence and confidence in the business potential. 

Aussie companies could learn a lot from this little piece of Middle Earth.

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