Researchers for Auckland International Airport have been secretly quizzing local residents for their views on the controversial Queenstown Airport deal.
UMR Research conducted “focus groups” two weeks ago to gauge public opinion about the northern airport’s purchase of 24.99 per cent of the council-owned resort airport.
Auckland’s undercover research is being followed by a charm offensive of advertisements, starting in Mountain Scene this week.
The airport deal was done without public consultation and in deepest secrecy.
Stage one saw Auckland pay $27.7 million for its initial stake. Stage two gives Auckland the opportunity to buy a further 10 per cent by June – if Queenstown Lakes District Council decides to sell after taking public soundings.
A second-stage sale would give Auckland board representation and enable it to block major transactions.
Since the deal was announced in July, public outrage has continued unabated and two legal challenges have been mounted – one by Air New Zealand, and the other by a heavyweight group of local businessfolk.
Auckland Airport communications advisor Andrew Pirie admits UMR initiated discussion groups “about issues relating to the share sale and the strategic alliance”.
“We wanted to get a better understanding of the views of people in the local community,” he explains.
“Obviously, it’s been a very topical issue down there so it didn’t take long to get people’s opinions flowing.”
Participants were chosen randomly and paid about $60 each. The research was paid for by Auckland.
In this week’s first charm advertisement – which doesn’t mention the possible sale of a further 10 per cent – Auckland Airport boss Simon Moutter refers to QLDC’s “consultation process”.
“We want to hear your thoughts, your suggestions, your concerns – and of course, your questions,” he says.
After this week’s advertisement was placed, Mountain Scene asked Pirie whether the charm campaign was because focus groups had given the deal the thumbs-down, jeopardising Auckland buying more shares.
“There’s no suggestion at all of that,” he says.
“The advertising was something we had planned before the focus groups took place.”
– Celia Williams & Frank Marvin