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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
New Zealand set for red invasion
By Rob Hodgetts

Lions fans turned Brisbane into a sea of red in 2001
Lions fans turned Brisbane into a sea of red in 2001
All Blacks captain Tana Umaga predicts the Lions tour will be "the biggest thing to hit New Zealand since the Lord of the Rings".

The trilogy, filmed on location around New Zealand, pumped millions of pounds into the local economy, both during filming and after.

And this summer's tour, attracting visitors from the UK and Ireland, will further swell Kiwi coffers.

Hordes of red-shirted Lions fans roamed over Australia for the 2001 series, prompting captain Martin Johnson to remark to his players before the first Test in Brisbane that it would be "like playing at home".

Four years later, more than 16,000 Lions supporters are expected to descend on New Zealand for the 11-match, seven-week tour.

There will be 8,000 people on official tours, plus an estimated 8,000 people travelling independently
NZRU's Lions project manager Nigel Cass

The Lions will play in nine different locations around New Zealand, with eight matches on the North Island and three on the South Island.

The series will generate an estimated NZ$250m (96.7m) according to research commissioned by the New Zealand Rugby Union.

This includes NZ$120m (46.4m) of direct spending plus an additional NZ$130m (50.3) in future earnings.

The ANZ bank has estimated the tour will add 0.1% to New Zealand's GDP in the middle of year.

"It is not only going to be a showcase of international rugby but also a major economic earner for the country," said Nigel Cass, NZRU's Lions series project manager.

New Zealand was showcased in the Lord of the Rings films
New Zealand was showcased in the Lord of the Rings films

"There will be 8,000 people travelling to New Zealand on official tours, plus an estimated 8,000 people travelling independently.

"That is a lot of people spending money at tourism destinations, restaurants, bars and shops."

And he insisited that it would not just be the Test venues of Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland that would profit.

Some reports suggest that more than 1,600 camper vans have been hired out for the June-July period.

"The economic benefit will not just be felt in one part of the country. It'll be felt from Invercargill in the south to Auckland because the team is going everywhere," said Cass.

UK-based Gullivers Sports Travel have about 5,000 different clients booked on various Lions packages.

Lions fans tend to be opinion-leaders - hopefully they will return home as 'walking brochures' of New Zealand
NZ tourism boss George Hickton

"About 240 clients are following the entire tour but the bulk all leave the UK around 19-22 June to see the three Test matches," said Gullivers boss John Hall.

Gullivers clients will fly about 26,000 airline sectors, will stay in 98 New Zealand hotels and be transported on the road by 80 coaches.

"The turnover for Gullivers for this one event will exceed 17m," said Hall.

Up to 200 foreign journalists are also expected, many of whom will also write travel articles which will help to boost New Zealand's profile.

New Zealand tourism boss George Hickton said: "The Lions series is one of the biggest sporting events New Zealand has ever had.

"The series is particularly important because of the media coverage it will generate in the UK.

"Visitors will come here for the games but also get the chance to experience other parts of New Zealand on non-game days, so the tourism and economic benefits are going to be huge.

"The UK is our second largest tourism market with over 250,000 British people travelling to New Zealand each year. This series will give us a tremendous profile boost in the UK.

"We also know that Lions fans tend to be opinion-leaders.

"We're doing everything we can to ensure the fans who travel to New Zealand have the holiday of a lifetime, so they will return home as 'walking brochures' of New Zealand."

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