QAC’s Auckland backing could have cost Queenstown

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Queenstown Airport backed its new shareholder Auckland Airport’s failed bid for a lucrative new Asian flight route – which could have cost the resort millions in tourism spinoffs. 

Christchurch Airport ended up winning the Air Asia X deal – four weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur, announced last weekend. 

Queenstown-based Jim Boult – the boss of Christchurch Airport and the man who spearheaded the Air Asia X victory – says if Auckland had won Queenstown would have missed out on any South Island visitor benefits. 

Boult expects 70,000 passengers annually from the deal with the big Malaysian long-haul carrier. 

“You’d have to say the vast majority of them are highly likely to get to Queenstown, be it by rental car, bus, camper-van or aeroplane,” he says. 

“They’ll be short-stay, five- or six-day travellers so if Air Asia X were to have gone into Auckland, you wouldn’t see a great number of them coming into Queenstown.” 

John Davies, local tourism magnate, ex-Queenstown Airport chairman and critic of the Auckland-Queenstown airport tie-up, is fuming about QAC backing Auckland’s bid – if Auckland Airport had won, Queenstown would have lost, he says. 

“It’s a magnificent coup for Christchurch to have pulled it off and it really highlights the fallacy of Queenstown Airport directors getting involved with Auckland,” Davies says. 

“Queenstown should have been supporting Christchurch 100 per cent along the way.” 

Back in July, it was announced that Queenstown Airport Corporation had issued a 24.99 per cent share stake to Auckland International Airport for $27.7 million. 

An option for Auckland to purchase up to 35 per cent – which would enable it to block major transaction resolutions at the QAC board table – requires community consultation. Immediately after the controversial deal was announced, Davies was one of 10 Queenstown business and political heavyweights who formed the Queenstown Community Strategic Assets Group which aims to reverse the deal and block any further sell off. 

The group, along with national airline Air New Zealand, have applied to the High Court for a review of the deal.
QAC chairman Mark Taylor confirms QAC backed Auckland’s Air Asia X bid after being asked to do so a year ago – but he applauds Christchurch’s victory. 

Sydney was also pitching and Taylor reckons Queenstown would have seen “very little Air Asia X passenger traffic” if that city had won. 

Taylor rejects Boult’s claim that Queenstown would have missed out if Auckland won – but former Tourism Board member Boult disagrees. 

“If they were to have flown into Auckland, they’d have had a night in Auckland, gone down to Rotorua, Taupo, done a circuit back to Auckland and then out of here,” Boult says. 

Queenstowner Boult also reveals he hosted Air Asia X executives at his Lake Hayes home during a familiarisation visit in February.