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Burton Speech - Whale Rider for US travel media

Mark Burton Speech - Pre-release screening of Whale Rider for US travel media

Good evening, and welcome to this special pre-release screening of Whale Rider. I’d like to offer a special welcome and my thanks to Witi Ihimaera for coming to all the way to New York to be here with us tonight. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the US Media for your generous support of New Zealand, and to the members of the US Travel Trade for continuing to sell New Zealand to your clients.

My thanks also to Bob Berney and Newmarket films for working with Tourism New Zealand to facilitate this screening tonight.

2002 was a watershed year for New Zealand tourism. In December, we reached an annual total of 2 million visitors—a milestone in our history. In those 12 months, 200,000 of those visitors were from the United States.

North America as a whole has shown strong growth, with numbers of US visitors increasing by 9.6%, and Canadian visitors by 8.1%.

But while visitor numbers are certainly a significant indicator of growth, they are by no means the most important. New Zealand’s long term interests will be best served if these guests are encouraged to travel at different times of the year, stay longer, increase their spend, and visit not only the traditional spots, but venture out into less familiar regions.

There are certainly signs that we are on the right path. In 2002, international visitors increased their spend by an extra 17.3 percent and increased their average length of stay by one day to 22 days.

New Zealand is on-trend as a destination. Tourism New Zealand is promoting New Zealand to the high-yield, upper end of the global tourism market—affluent, independent, travellers who are looking to get off the beaten track and have a unique, varied experience.

Much of this promotion has worked in tandem with the unprecedented media coverage we have received over the past year—the year the media seemed to “discover” New Zealand.

In 2002, we have been delighted with features on and exposure through media as diverse as:

The Discovery Channel’s Royal Tour The Amazing Race National Geographic Today The Food Network The Today Show The CBS Early Show And numerous magazine and newspaper articles or features.

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of film in lifting the profile of New Zealand. Our unique culture, heritage and environments have been showcased to the world through several recent movies. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has taken and is still taking, the world by storm and received box office, media and critical acclaim.

The scale of the LOTR project was unprecedented. Essentially three big budget movies at once. And when Peter Jackson then said he wanted to film it and do the post-production work in New Zealand, they really must have said – ”You’ve got to be kidding”.

Well, Peter Jackson wasn’t kidding, and New Zealand has reaped the benefits of his visionary project. The first two instalments of LOTR trilogy has shown the world that not only is New Zealand the most beautiful country in the world—it’s one of the most creative as well. (And Weta Workshop has the Oscars to prove it!)

The LOTR actors have become some of New Zealand’s most enthusiastic ambassadors, never failing to mention what a superb time they all had while on location here.

Because, if the triumph of New Zealand’s natural environments was no surprise, it was the stars – the actors – through their unanticipated and unrestrained enthusiasm about the experience of sharing the real New Zealand with New Zealanders, that really revealed the secret of our success.

As a result of LOTR, millions of people around the world know where we are, and who we are, and want to come and meet New Zealanders and see “Middle Earth” for themselves.

Of course, LOTR is not the first New Zealand film to make a mark on the world film scene. Previous successes have included critically acclaimed films such as The Piano, Once Were Warriors, and Peter Jackson’s earlier film, Heavenly Creatures.

New Zealanders Anna Pacquin and Jane Campion both won Oscars for their work in The Piano, while Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Species, No Way Out) and Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Along Came a Spider, Once Were Warriors) have been respected on the international film scene for many years.

The latest film to follow in this tradition is Whale Rider, Niki Caro’s moving story of a young girl’s struggle to make a place for herself in a male-dominated world, overcome the rejection of her grandfather, and ultimately win his respect.

Whale Rider, with its unique combination of New Zealand’s scenic beauty and a rich tale of our people, culture and legends, has found critical acclaim in the US.

As you may know, the film has already won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Films such as Whale Rider will continue to increase the profile of New Zealand internationally and help develop a better understanding of New Zealand as a tourist destination.

And now, I invite you to enjoy this special pre-release showing of Whale Rider. If any of you want to book tickets to New Zealand afterwards, I’m sure I can point you in the direction of a good travel agent…

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