by Andrea Doyle | March 26, 2015
Spectacular backdrops, world-class restaurants and shopping, and one-of-a-kind activities make New Zealand an enchanting destination, especially for groups.

"Caring for our guests is at the heart of our culture. The best way to describe our warm welcome is 'manaakitanga,' a Maori word that means respect, humanity, and kindness. It's part of everything we do," says Sue Sullivan, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand, the official association of New Zealand's conference and business travel industry with more than 400 members across a broad range of sectors.

"As a planner, New Zealand is an ideal destination for groups looking for that unique location that delivers quality service, great surroundings with beautiful scenery, price value, and excellent accommodations for groups to enjoy. All of this was done by terrific people who believe in and love their country," says John Koon, president of San Francisco-based JEK Consulting, a worldwide meeting planning, event management, and hospitality consulting company. Koon was on a recent New Zealand site inspection trip; he is looking at Auckland for a 2016 incentive group.

Incentives, conferences, conventions, and exhibitions are a focus for New Zealand and its prime minister, John Key, who also happens to be the country's tourism minister. The New Zealand government has invested $34 million over four years to expand its focus on international business events.

They may be small, but J.R.R. Tolkien's hobbits have been big business for the country. New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson, best known for his film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, shot all three installments of the fantasy saga simultaneously over a 15-month period in New Zealand, and the country's rolling hills were once again brought to life for The Hobbit trilogy. All of this attention has lifted some of the mystery and has brought New Zealand and its beauty into the forefront of many people's minds.  

New Zealand was the site of a recent Amway Singapore/Malaysia incentive trip that ended with an evening in magical Middle-earth at the Hobbiton movie set. Among the rolling green hills of Waikato's farmland, the group was given unprecedented access to the set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

After an hour-long tour of the set, the group was met outside The Green Dragon Inn, where they were serenaded by a folk duo on flute and guitar with six costumed characters dressed in medieval attire. They were ushered in for drinks before heading to the medieval-themed marquee for a buffet banquet. The menu had been altered to include a blend of Western and Asian dishes, including vegetarian options, to suit the group.

Following dinner, there were a number of Amway speeches, followed by a Middle-earth themed quiz with prizes. Character guides took the group back through the set with hand-held lanterns to see the lights and chimneys of Hobbiton burning by night.

Winning over those not familiar with the Tolkien stories was easy. "About 40 percent of guests have not seen the movies but Hobbiton is a living movie set, which is unique. People are amazed by the stories and how much detail has gone into the set," says Henry Horne, a sales manager at Hobbiton.

Other highlights included a trip to the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where the group sailed through caves surrounded by thousands of the glowing creatures.