More visits, my precious: The Hobbit aids New Zealand ...West Jet seating changes
In case you hadn't heard somehow or aren't a fan of Lord of the Rings (in which case I would ask you to move to someone else's blog IMMEDIATELY), the latest Peter Jackson flick hits the big screen in Canada next week.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is set to open in Canada Dec. 14, and it's likely to put another surge into the New Zealand tourism scene. Tomorrow's (Dec. 8) Travel section of the Star will have a story on the town of Matamata, which in in the movies is made up to look like the village of Hobbiton, in New Zealand, and the Canadian opening on December 14, a trip to experience Middle-earth is likely on the bucket list for many fans. Below are some of the top New Zealand tourism activities focused on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, courtesy of New Zealand Tourism (with the odd comment added in from me).
Near Matamata, a picturesque town just two and a half hours from Auckland (New Zealand’s largest city, and a great spot to start a trip), visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Hidden in the magical, spectacularly green, rolling hills of the area is Hobbiton, the film set made famous in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Along with 37 Hobbit holes, fans can check out the Green Dragon Inn, The Mill and other structures used in the upcoming films. Not only has Hobbiton gained fame as a movie set, it is also a working farm experience, café and conference facility. It’s definitely a must for anyone who wants to truly experience the “Shire” when in New Zealand.
Four-Wheel Drive Safari of Scenes in Queenstown
Any reason to visit Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, is a good one, and a four-wheel drive adventure through Middle-earth gives visitors a great reason to go. The Queenstown area was prominently featured in the filming of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Nomad Safaris offers two different tours designed specifically for fans. The guides are definitely one of the highlights of the tour; many were extras in the films. They know, and are happy to share, all of the local gossip about what the stars of the movies did while they were filming in the area. I visited Queenstown when I was in New Zealand a couple years ago. I didn't do this tour but I did visit Chard Farm winery, which is on the banks of the river that features the giant statues of the old kings that's prominently featured in Lord of the Rings. I also visited the small stream where they filmed the scene where Liv Tyler lets loose a torrent of water to help Frodo escape the Black Riders. It sounds silly, but I kinda got goosebumps looking at it...
Everyone who goes to Wellington falls in love with the fun, foodie and fashion-focused city that sits at the southern tip of the North Island. Known to many as “Wellywood” because of its flourishing film industry, fans can experience the ultimate Middle-earth full-day tour with Wellington Rover Tours – where fans can follow in the footsteps of Hobbits, and spend the day learning film secrets. Wellington also boasts the Weta Cave, which screens a behind-the-scenes look at Weta and interviews co-founder Peter Jackson, among others; has a mini-museum with some of the characters; and features props and displays from The Lord of the Rings films. For the duration of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey world premiere week, Wellington will be known as “The Middle of Middle-earth” and will be host to the premiere, where celebrities, filmmakers, fans and entertainment journalists from around the globe will all converge to celebrate the release of the first of three Hobbit movies.
Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.ca) has direct non-stop flights from Vancouver to Auckland and offers flights from many other North American cities. For more information about New Zealand, please visit: www.NewZealand.com.
WEST JET REVAMPS SEATING/PRICING (and also eyes international market)
Nice job in today's Star Business section by Vanessa Lu, who wrote about WestJet's three new fare groups.
Starting next spring West Jet will try to woo business travellers with the "Plus" fare package, which will give added legroom, priority screening and boarding, flexible cancellations or flight changes and more, including drinks and snacks and priority access to those oh-so-valuable overhead bins. Next in line (and cost) will be the Flex fare, which has added, um, flexibility. And then the Econo fare, which is the cheapest and has the least amount of leeway for changes (and also fights for the overhead bins, I suspect)....
WestJet officials figure about two-thirds of the folks seeking the Plus fare will be business types.
It's forecast that the move to premium economy, which a bunch of other airlines are doing (including Lufthansa on long-haul flights), will generate $50 to $80 million in added revenues. That suggests the Plus fares will come at a substantial premium, but all WestJet officials will say is that the Plus fares will be competitive.
Obviously they won't be comparable to economy fares but they should be competitive with Air Canada's business class.
WestJet, as you may know, will be introducing its new, regional service across Canada next year. It's called Encore and is meant to service smaller cities who've been clamouring for more airline operations.
While WestJet is aiming at smaller markets in the short term, a report in the Globe and Mail today says the Calgary-base cmpany is talking with Boeing and Airbus about buying some wide-body big boys that could fly much farther than WestJet's current fleet.
Officials are keeping a tight lip on this one, saying they probably won't do anything until Encore is up and running and that there are no definite plans. But they wouldn't be talking with aircraft manufacturers if they didn't intend to do something, and it certainly fits WestJet's pattern of slow but steady growth.
The airline today took possession of its 100th Boeing Next Generation 737 plane.
LUFTHANSA HAS A NEW DISCOUNT CARRIER
Interesting. Just as I finished typing out that bit about WestJet and it's three-tier pricing scheme, I got a note from Lufthansa saying they'll launch an airline called Germanwings on July 1 next year, complete with a similar scheme.
The press release from Lufthansa said Germanwings "is set to revolutionize the European low-cost market. In the future it will offer the highest value airline product in this segment in Europe"
"Passengers will be able to create their own package and adapt it in detail to their individual needs, from low-cost flying without add-ons to a high-quality passenger experience with lots of amenities and extras," officials said. While offering Economy Class across the board, the "new Germanwings" will boast three fares with different service packages. "Best", the highest quality product, will cover the needs of business passengers in particular but also appeal to leisure travellers, the "Smart" fare product will include certain add-on services with the customer being able to pick others as needed, while "Basic" will be the no-frills low-cost fare.
Officials said that up to 20 million passengers are to be transported on European direct services using approximately 90 aircraft.
SNOW IN EUROPE - UGH
Travelmole reports that "heavy snow across northern and central Europe is causing flight delays and cancellations.
KLM has cancelled all of its European flights until at least midday today following heavy snow fall in Amsterdam. It said de-icing aircraft may also delay departures."
If you're headed to Europe today or tomorrow, be sure to check with your airline well ahead of departure time....