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