Hob­biton boost­ing town’s econ­omy

Hob­biton’s growth has meant a steady sup­ply of work for Mata­mata busi­nesses. Chris Gard­ner and Narelle Henson re­port .

Matamata Chronicle - - News -

Hob­biton’s ex­pan­sion hasn’t just seen the lo­cal tourist at­trac­tion ben­e­fit from bet­ter sets, lo­cal busi­nesses have been cash­ing in as well.

When Hob­biton’s visi­tors took to so­cial me­dia to com­plain about the size of the Mata­mata film set’s pokey lit­tle ticket of­fice and shop, chief ex­ec­u­tive Rus­sell Alexan­der im­me­di­ately went to the man who had art di­rected the Hob­bit tril­ogy, Brian Massey.

‘‘They were say­ing on Trip Ad­vi­sor that there was not enough room in the shop and not enough stuff to buy, ‘‘ Massey said.

He was asked to project-man­age a new shop at the pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion.

That meant Dar­ren Roa Builders, of Mata­mata, re­ceived another call-up last year to be­gin con­struct­ing a 7 me­tre by 21 me­tre shop along­side The Shire’s Rest Cafe.

Roa and his team of three other builders started work on the shop a year af­ter com­plet­ing Hob­biton’s Green Dragon Inn.

The shop project has also seen a re­fresh of The Shire’s Rest Cafe.

His crew were putting the fin­ish­ing touches on the wool­shed­style build­ing, de­signed by Wellington ar­chi­tect Gavin Urquart, last week.

Mr Roa said his in­volve­ment in Hob­biton has meant a steady sup­ply of work over the past 10 years.

‘‘They al­ways seem to be do­ing some­thing out there,’’ he said.

Oc­ca­sion­ally another two builder friends are also called in when an ex­tra hand is needed.

‘‘The projects they have out there are gen­er­ally quite long, like six months,’’ Mr Roa said.

‘‘You can also be a lit­tle bit cre­ative, which in your nor­mal type of build­ing you can’t re­ally.’’

Owen Hen­der­son, owner of The Meat Com­pany, Mata­mata which sup­plies Hob­biton with all its meat, said the tourist at­trac­tion has been his busi­ness’s ‘‘lifeblood’’ over the past few years.

‘‘It’s very much one of the big­ger in­dus­tries in Mata­mata now. A lot of in­dus­try has fallen away whereas this tourism one is con­tin­u­ing to grow, which is real good.’’

He es­ti­mates his sup­plies to Hob­biton have grown by 35-50 per cent each year over the past three years.

‘‘Places like Hob­biton are very much our lifeblood.

‘‘ All butch­ers are busy up till Christ­mas and then it dies away, whereas we’ve been lucky to have been kept busy by Hob­biton in the qui­eter times, so it’s had a real big im­pact on us.’’

He said the grow­ing stream of busi­ness has meant he hasn’t had to cut any staff, which would likely have hap­pened if the busi­ness re­lied solely on re­tail­ers.

‘‘It’s just lucky that those guys flew over in that he­li­copter and liked that tree, it’s had a huge ef­fect on us all,’’ he said, re­fer­ring to the film­mak­ers’ lo­ca­tion spot­ters.

Re­doubt Bar and Eatery gen­eral man­ager, Clif­ford Wil­liams, said pa­tron­age has in­creased markedly since the tourist at­trac­tion opened.

‘‘Oh yeah def­i­nitely, there’s been an im­prove­ment. There’s a lot of turnover in terms of tourists com­ing in and out of Mata­mata. The num­bers have def­i­nitely in­creased.’’

He es­ti­mates he sees 15 to 20 per cent more peo­ple com­ing through the town now than he did be­fore Hob­biton opened.

‘‘I can tell you one thing, it put New Zealand out there on the world map.

‘‘ It’s good for Mata­mata, it’s good for the whole town.’’

He said the in­crease has been es­pe­cially no­tice­able since the up­grade and open­ing of the Hob­biton-themed i-SITE Gate­house.

In hard num­bers, twice as many tourists booked into a Hob­biton tour this year com­pared to the same time last year.

In all it has at­tracted more than half a mil­lion visi­tors to Mata­mata.

Tourism NZ spokes­woman Deb­o­rah Gray said 13 per cent of de­part­ing tourists an­swer­ing the In­ter­na­tional Vis­i­tor Sur­vey up un­til Septem­ber last year had taken in a Hob­bit ex­pe­ri­ence.

Hol­i­day ar­rivals from the United States, tar­geted in the Mid­dle-Earth cam­paign, are up 21.4 per cent on the same pe­riod last year.

Star­ring role: The Hob­bit art di­rec­tor Brian Massey in Hob­biton’s new, spa­cious shop whose cre­ation he over­saw.

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