Inside: Auckland International Airport

Jason Delamore took over as general manager, marketing and communications at Auckland International Airport around four months ago and his appointment marked the first time that marketing had earned a place at the executive table. And he sees it playing a big role in achieving some of the airport’s bold 30-year goals.

As far as marketing challenges go, the airport might seem like a fairly easy sell at first glance. After all, there’s only one. But Delamore’s remit is much broader than just travellers. It is an extremely important economic engine for Auckland and the country as a whole (the operation of Auckland Airport and its neighbouring activity contributes $3.5 billion to regional GDP; provides 33,100 jobs; and contributes $1.9 billion to Auckland’s household incomes) and while he says marketing had long been “stuck in the retail team”, chief executive Adrian Littlewood and the board saw the need to expand the breadth of marketing to enhance other parts of the business, such as property and commercial. 

“I think the brand proposition for the airport is something we need to communicate; we need to show what it stands for. Our catchphrase is ‘making journeys better’, so how do we do that and ensure that people’s experience at the airport is a good one?”

14.5 million people went through the gates in 2013 and Delamore, who spent many years in senior roles in marketing, sales and strategic partnerships and channels for companies like Vector, IBM, Lucent and Contact Energy, says the main goal is to showcase the services and the facilities the airport has got and engage with customers in more ways than just the “physical transaction of turning up and walking through it”.

And to do this it’s been doing more and more on social media, like the ‘meeters and farewellers‘ campaign that asked travellers to share their journeys and received 700 entries (he says a similar campaign was run by Sydney Airpprt and they only got around 200). As a result, Facebook participation was up by about 60 percent and website traffic increased substantially too.

It also teamed up with Jeremy Corbett to make a school holiday-related video for kids that got 25,000 views. 

“So what it shows is people like to engage with the airport and the stories inside it … We’re not overt about pushing the brand. It’s about people sharing their experiences. We’re trying to give it a friendly face.”

He says the airport’s main focus from a marketing perspective will be on customer engagement and experience across its digital assets. It will also be coming out and being “a lot louder and prouder”. That’s not so much about ads on TV, although it does run a few, it’s more about “getting a lot more targeted and focused”.

As far as agencies go, he says it has historically used different partners and vendors in different parts of the organisation. He predicts deeper relationships with those existing partners, and says there’s no plans for any big changes on that front. 

The more than 100 retail outlets at the international and domestic terminals contributed $124.3 million to the airport’s coffers in the 2013 financial year, which made up 28 percent of total revenue. Historically, that’s been the biggest area of focus for the marketing team and it will continue to be. 

“We’re one of New Zealand’s biggest malls in duty free and non-duty free sales. So that keeps us very busy. And in a lot of respects we’re competing in an international market because passengers can get it offshore … We collaborate a lot with the retailers, helping them with their promotions. We focus on what is the right blend of retailers and if we have the appropriate ones and we work together on ensuring they’re successful. We do a lot of cross-funding of promotions. One of the things we want to offer them is our scale. We had 14 and a half million who went through both terminals. But we have five million a year that go through our website, we’ve got an app with 30,000 downloads and we have 780,000 a month signing on for wifi, so we’re looking at how to send some of that traffic to retailers.”

Its work around Chinese New Year and the money it pumped into promotions was a good example of that, he says.

“We spent a lot of time dressing up the terminal and a lot of time investing in local media because there’s a lot of family going back and forth and a lot of activity on the web and social media. We had great numbers and average spend was up.”

Next year he says it aims to reach into the Chinese and South East Asian markets before they arrive in New Zealand. And this is where the airport—and tourism marketing in general—gets interesting, he says, because digital and social markets work differently offshore.

“In China, they don’t use Facebook. It’s Weibo, Baidu, WeChat. But then Indonesia is the number two Facebook market outside of the US. Phone usage is massive. I think the average time of Chinese on their cellphones is six hours a day. So the first thing they do when they land here is jump online, go on WeChat, and post a couple of photos of the blue sky outside and some info about New Zealand. So they’re communicating all the time.”

While more and more passengers are coming in from China and other growth markets, he says 60 percent of its customers are travelling between Australia and New Zealand, so it tailors its retail experience and products to suit that market, while also trying to cater to the luxury end of the market. 

Given the profile of the average air traveller, they’re an attractive target for advertisers, which means airport media is also a nice little earner for the airport.  

“We operate two models from that side of things. We’re just changing to APN Outdoor after it won the tender [ousting OoH! Media]. They have a lot of the big assets, then there’s another 50 odd sites in terminals and a couple of billboards that come under my gamut and we typically use those for promoting airport activity or for the retailers. We’ll probably go more digital as it gives us more flexibility in terms of what we do.” 

While it can control the retail offering, Delamore and the team know they have less control over the entire customer experience. And he says segmentation makes that even more challenging, because someone flying on business to Australia have different requirements to those going on holiday with the kids or those arriving from other countries.

“There’s only so much you can do about the airline experience. And the airport experience is the combination of MPI, Customs, and Border Control agencies, but one of the metrics we do track is around time from customs and through the airport, so we collaborate around how we make that better, quicker and easier. There are always constraints, like how many planes land at the same time. But we’re quite conscious of optimising that and we’re always looking at new technology to improve it.”  

Those in the know seem to be fairly impressed with what the airport is doing at the moment, however. At the 2014 Skytrax World Airport Awards, Auckland Airport won best airport in Australia Pacific for the sixth year in a row; best Airport Staff Service in Australia Pacific for the third year in a row; and second best airport in the world serving 10-20 million passengers and 11th best airport in the world overall. 

But its $2.5 billion 30 year expansion plan (find out more at airportofthefuture.co.nz) shows it’s not just aiming to maintain that, it’s planning on massive growth (it expects 40 million people in 2044, with flights expected to almost double from 150,000 a year to 260,000). In some countries, airports are, somewhat surprisingly, a destination—and not just for the plane spotters. Changi in Singapore is a good example and, while Auckland is much smaller, Delamore believes it could follow its lead and become the Britomart of south Auckland. 

“We’d like it to be that way. And that’s why the choice of tenants and leaseholders becomes so important. The property team works hard to contract some tenants. And if we can get some more corporate HQs out here and more retail we can make it a more desirable place to be.”

He says the response to the airport’s plans, which involve the potential of a new northern runway by 2025, have been overwhelmingly positive from almost all quarters. And the fact that it’s allocated some land for a rail corridor has also put it in the good books.

“We’re thinking into the future,” he says. 

The property side of the business is also crucial, with 1500 hectares in total at the airport and about 300 hectares (or 300 football fields) of development still to go. 

“We want more commercial, more retail and so forth out there and that’s about creating the proposition of the airport. We want to make the airport a great location to work, dine out and go shopping. As we did the rounds through the 30 year vision recently, we had a few community meetings to explain what we were doing and it was phenomenal the number of people who went to the airport in the weekend. And most of them said we want more things to do out there. We already have a mountain bike park, sculpture park, sports field, Abbeville estate, a golf course, a driving range, cafés and plenty more, so we just need to tell more people about it.” 

The other big area of the business is the aeronautical and commercial division, which sees the airport working with airlines and travel partners to promote the airport and New Zealand as a desirable place to come. 

“One aspect of that is attracting [airlines] into New Zealand, so we reach into foreign markets and do deep dives into the commercials and show that it’s profitable for the airline to come here. Then it’s about ensuring they stay.” 

And if the airport’s plans come to fruition, it seems likely that they’ll want to. 

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