Controversial airport deal’s major market spin-offs

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Queenstown’s “big leg up” in expanding Asian markets wouldn’t have been the same without its Auckland Airport alliance, Auckland’s boss says. 

Auckland Airport chief executive Simon Moutter – whose company snapped up 24.99 per cent of community-owned Queenstown Airport in a secret deal two years ago – says a big chunk of his airport’s marketing now also pushes Queenstown. 

This week, Moutter and fellow airport top brass have been in Queenstown hosting Indonesian TV celebrity Farah Quinn as part of a push to develop New Zealand as a premium travel hotspot for Indonesia’s burgeoning middle-class.
The visit coincides with Queenstown’s hosting of national annual trade show Tourism Rendezvous New Zealand (TRENZ) and Moutter says: “It’s part of our strategy to grow our country’s reputation and because we’re an investor in Queenstown Airport, we’re not just pushing the Auckland story – we’re pushing the Queenstown story. 

“Every one of these celebs we’ve brought out we bring them to both – and it’s a big leg up for this community actually.”

Asked if he’d probably still be exposing high-profile visitors to Queenstown – the country’s tourism jewel – even if Auckland didn’t have its Queenstown Airport stake, Moutter admits: “Yeah, we might actually. 

“But it’s not the only place in NZ we could work with and there is no doubt having a stake in this market makes us heavily inclined to pitch Queenstown in basically every offer we make offshore. 

“And I don’t think that would be the same if we didn’t own a position in the airport.” 

Since Auckland’s almost $30 million buy-in in 2010, which cost then-Queenstown Airport Corporation chairman Mark Taylor his position, Auckland Airport has funnelled major visits from airline bigwigs and influential celebrities through Queenstown. 

In April last year, Auckland brought a 70-strong delegation of Chinese media, government officials and executives from China Southern Airlines – one of the world’s largest – to Queenstown as part of a promotion of direct flights to Auckland from China. 

“We’ve got the resources to do more of it than the Queenstown community could have done on its own,” Moutter says. 

“We’re out there every day in Asia promoting images of Queenstown, we put Queenstown into all the itineraries, every airline we bring to NZ promoting our destination we’re bringing the executives here to Queenstown to give them a taste.” 

At the time of Auckland’s controversial Queenstown Airport buy-in, a group of high-profile local businessmen formed the Queenstown Community Strategic Assets Group to fight the deal in court and block Auckland acquiring a larger stake. 

Asked how he’s received on Queenstown visits, Moutter says: “It’s long since I’ve had any negative reaction. I understand it was controversial at the time, but gee whizz, the airport’s going gangbusters … we’re busting our butts to make a positive contribution. 

“It doesn’t get any better actually than having one of the biggest companies in NZ having a vested interested in backing the tourism industry and a key piece of infrastructure in this market. 

“If it was my airport, I’d take that free gift any day of the week,” Moutter says.