Post-America's Cup win, New Zealand sails toward financial rewards

By Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand is beginning to reap the rewards of this week's America's Cup victory, which is expected to boost tourism and buoy the marine industry. Officials welcomed Emirates Team New Zealand's stunning win against the U.S. holders in Bermuda, a feel-good boost in an election year, with the economic benefits expected to be on a par with those from hosting the filming of the Lord of the Rings series. Some in the superyacht industry are seeing a rise in enquires and making plans for when New Zealand hosts the next America's Cup, likely in 2021. Right after New Zealand's victory, "we saw an interest in yachts wanting to book and making enquiries about what could be done," said Mark Wightman, chief executive of superyacht refitter Integrated Marine Group in Auckland. "Probably five, but that's a lot to us." An elaborate superyacht refitting can cost as much as NZ$20 million ($14.65 million), though most involveare between NZ$3 million and NZ$5 million. Business in the marine industry could potentially increase by 25 percent over the next few years and revenue rise by NZ$500 million as a result of the win, said Peter Busfield, executive director of the New Zealand Marine Industry. Some superyacht servicers are planning to boost staffing and look to the Auckland Council to increase the number of berths during the next America's Cup. "I'm sure a few plans mooted in the past two or three years will have the dust blown off them," said Phil Tomlinson, director of 37 South, an Auckland superyacht service that offers everything from refitting to food. He said he would likely raise headcount to around 20 from five during the Cup and said clients were enquiring about berths for 2021. SIMILAR TO "LOTR"? The America's Cup held in New Zealand in 2003 generated an estimated NZ$495 million of value added, the government said. Brett O'Riley, chief executive of the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development said the benefits of the coming Cup could be higher. "We have a high level estimate that the America's Cup could contribute a billion dollars of economic growth between now and 2021," he said. "It might be that in four years' time there is much greater interest from places like China... there is an opportunity to get a broader interest in the America's Cup, interest from a broader base of travellers," O'Riley said. Some government officials warned against overspending around the America's Cup, given that New Zealand already has the infrastructure for it and is accustomed to hosting big sporting events. Many consider the coming Cup an opportunity to attract foreign direct investment, fast-track infrastructure projects and further cast the Pacific island nation onto the international stage. The impact from the sailing victory "is up there with Lord of the Rings," said Hayden Porter, general manager of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, current holders of the America's Cup. (Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield; Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Richard Borsuk)