Next year’s Lions rugby tour is expected to boost tourism and inject millions of dollars into the Bay of Plenty region.
That is the call of Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton, who believes the Lions tour – their first here during the professional era – could spark more media interest than the America’s Cup.
The British and Irish Lions rugby side, with up to 20,000 British fans and 150 media representatives in tow, open their 2005 New Zealand tour with a match against Bay of Plenty at Rotorua’s International Stadium on June 4.
It will be the first game of 11, with interest from overseas and within New Zealand expected to be huge.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton believes the Lions’ 11th tour to New Zealand — and the first of the professional era — could be even better for tourism than yachting’s great regatta.
“This will be bigger — well, not in economic terms, but because it tours the country it gives great opportunity to promote the country,” he said at the official launch of the Lions Series 2005 in Wellington yesterday.
“It’s a different thing — America’s Cup had an economic element, this has a really strong tourism one.”
The tour opener is expected to bring up to $8 million to Rotorua with the potential for plenty more to spin off into the region.
Tourism New Zealand hopes the face of New Zealand, its people, landscapes and attractions will make the seven-week tour unprecedented and unforgettable.
“The perfect scenario is an All Blacks win, but for us, people going away saying this was the best Lions tour there has ever been, surely because of the rugby, primarily because of the welcome and the way they’ve been hosted,” he said.
The tour will stretch the length of the country with the New Zealand Rugby Union attempting to take the Lions show to as many people as possible with the deals it has cut.
Tickets will be at a premium, as will the prices — up to $300 a seat — with the hosting union having to balance commercial obligations to the Lions, who never play games at home, with its need to service New Zealand rugby fans and the general public.
New Zealand Rugby Union deputy chief executive Steve Tew said New Zealand was seen by many overseas players and fans as the ultimate place to tour.
“We want them to not only experience rugby, but everything New Zealand has to offer,” he said.