When Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko came to New Zealand, the government approved his superyacht as a special quarantine facility so that family dog Vala could avoid a spell away from its master.

Melnichenko’s $350 million yacht was one of 35 luxury vessels to visit in 2013, spending NZ$185 million ($157 million) on refits and repairs and NZ$95 million on tourism. Prime Minister John Key wants to double both numbers by 2018.

Facing a September election, Key is seeking to boost tourism, skilled services and manufacturing to diversify an economy reliant on dairy exports and squeezed by an elevated currency. Part of the effort is aimed at reversing a slump in boat building and fitting in the wake of the global financial crisis and luring more super rich to New Zealand’s shores.

“Their spend per person is significantly different from any other tourists,” said Murray McCaw, co-owner of the Bay of Many Coves resort in the Marlborough Sounds, whose intricate waterways, islands and secluded beaches are promoted as a boaties’ paradise. “That high-yielding tourist is a really important part of the international tourism economy for New Zealand.”

Marlborough Sounds at the top of the nation’s South Island is a popular destination for superyachts, which can anchor in its sheltered bays. Those who visit McCaw’s resort book tables at the Foredeck restaurant to dine on local scallops and kingfish, and hire spa therapists for a hot stone massage or a facial treatment on board, he said.

Luxury Spending

“While they are moored here they might also go to another lodge or a vineyard,” where they can sample award-winning sauvignon blanc wines the Marlborough region is known for, McCaw said. “They’re not just sitting there biding their time in the sunshine. These people are about the experience.”

Government tourism and trade promotion agencies have joined the boat-building industry to market New Zealand as a destination for superyachts, citing the opportunities to explore 15,000 kilometers (9,400 miles) of coast and the scope to have their vessels refitted in the nation’s shipyards. Spending in the tourism industry makes up about 8.7 percent of gross domestic product, according to government figures.

Repair and refit has become a key focus for the marine industry as orders for new boats slowed after the financial crisis. Local boat builders have a global reputation for workmanship, enhanced by a list of industry awards and the 2013 America’s Cup, when New Zealand’s contender was narrowly beaten by Larry Ellison’s Oracle, a yacht that also relied on New Zealand design and construction.

‘Double Whammy’