Tourism New Zealand has picked an outsider to captain the best-known brand in tourism.

Yahoo!Xtra boss Kevin Bowler will take over as Tourism New Zealand chief executive next year.

Tourism New Zealand director Glenys Coughlan said Mr Bowler’s “strong sense of brand” and his recent experience had been the winning mix, putting him ahead of 159 other applicants.

“More and more, the competition for the consumer’s mind will be fought in the online space, so that helps to take us faster into the future.”

The tourism industry was not expecting one of it own to get the job, but Mr Bowler was a complete unknown to most.

Inbound Tourism Operators Council chief executive Paul Yeo said being an “outsider” was not a limitation. “I think it’s a positive. It’s a small gene pool in the tourism industry; many were expecting someone with a wider marketing and business skills and range of experience.

“He’s been into advertising, and everything from dairy foods to chocolate. He pushes a lot of the right buttons.”

Starting in January, Mr Bowler will take over from outgoing chief executive George Hickton, who has headed Tourism New Zealand for the past decade.

The 100% Pure New Zealand brand was developed under Mr Hickton, and was ranked the top destination brand in a survey by the United Nations World Tourism organisation.

Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster said it was time for a change. “It’s no disrespect to George [Hickton], but we are in a new environment and we have a new opportunity to approach things. We still have massive market share opportunities and in a declining market that’s what you have to focus on.”

Mr Bowler said he would be pushing for a heightened emphasis on the internet, and said he would bring a lot of depth to how New Zealand got its message out.

“I envisage we’d seek a big increase in the use of digital in the marketing mix. I hope to be able to guide that and accelerate that.”

He had been keen to get into tourism, and the new job gave him the chance to push something he felt strongly about.

“I’ve been marketing across telcos and fast-moving consumer goods for most of my career so the opportunity to market a brand I’m so passionate about was too good to say no.”