Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton says the tourism marketing spend in the North American market will be more than doubled to about $10 million.

Mr Hickton said New Zealand had to stop a downward trend in the long-haul visitor market in recent years to match the positive growth trend seen in the numbers of short-haul visitors, particularly in the trans-Tasman market.

The United States market – which now brings nearly 200,000 travellers into New Zealand a year – would be a key target for growth.

“It’s the biggest long-haul market in the world, so it’s the one to go for. And we’ve got more flights to the US than anywhere else bar Australia,” Mr Hickton said.

The North American promotion budget would be doubled to between $8 and $10m or more.

“We’re putting more money in, we’re almost doubling our investment there – and we’re going to make some more announcements about our approach in the US,” Mr Hickton said after a breakfast for tourism sector operators.

The session was hosted by both TNZ and Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism.

TNZ also thinks marketing into the United States often needs to be celebrity driven to get an impact in an oversaturated media market.

TNZ regional manager for North America Annie Dundas cited the success of US television romance show The Bachelor – partly filmed in New Zealand – along with John Key’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

“We’ve got to get talked about … David Letterman, the prime minister – get New Zealand talked about and on the map,” Ms Dundas said.

Mr Letterman had now been invited to New Zealand. “We’re talking to Dave, he’s a very keen fly fisherman.”

New Zealand was host to about 197,000 visitors a year from the US, or about 0.7 per cent of its long-haul travellers, Ms Dundas said.

TNZ’s aim was to boost that figure to 1 per cent, or 300,000 visitors a year.

Mr Hickton said the $20m in extra funds provided by the Government this year was a real bonus.

“We’ve had the largest increase in funding we’ve ever had as an organisation – $20m this year, and $30m next.

“Essentially we now have $100m to market New Zealand.”

A 1 per cent fall in inbound visitors to New Zealand in the year to date was much less than forecasts of a 10 per cent fall made 12 months ago, Mr Hickton said.

CCT chief executive Christine Prince said the marketing driven-organisation was also ready to increase its use of celebrities to bring in visitors.

Phil Keoghan, presenter of television’s The Amazing Race was back in his hometown Christchurch last week to meet staff in the i-SITE Visitor Centre in Cathedral Square and help launch a new i-SITE campaign.

That aimed to encourage Cantabrians to visit the site and find out what it offered so that knowledge could be passed on to visitors.