Hobbits make tourism New Zealand's top earner

THE hobbits, orcs and wizards of Lord of the Rings are helping draw so many travellers to New Zealand that tourism is about to surpass the country’s dairy industry as the number one earner.

Dairy farming has been the nation’s main foreign exchange earner for 50 years, but the runaway success of the films by the local director Peter Jackson, with its New Zealand panoramas, is expected to help boost visitors by 8 per cent to 2.2 million for the year up to June.

Tourism New Zealand’s chief executive, George Hickton, said: "New Zealand is carving itself out a niche and has become a hot destination," with most key markets providing growth.

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Its popularity is expected to rise again, after the final installment won 11 Oscars.

Research indicates that one in ten tourists are attracted to New Zealand partly because of the films.

An independent forecast group, the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research, said tourism would be the export sector’s "star" over the next two years, while other exports struggle because of a rising New Zealand dollar.