By David McMullen

On 22nd February, 2011, Christchurch – home to hundreds of thousands of people – was struck by a devastating earthquake. It was one of worst disasters ever in New Zealand.

Much of the central city with its classic neo-gothic architecture was destroyed. 1200 commercial buildings in the CBD, 75% of all hotels and the bustling convention centre – a hub for international events – completely wiped out! 

The buildings may have been damaged but the soul of the city and the welcoming spirit of the people remains very much intact. A recent wellbeing survey conducted by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority reported three quarters of residents say life is good or extremely good.  76 per cent had experienced pride in the ability to cope under difficult circumstances; 69 per cent experienced increased resilience as a family; 68 per cent had a renewed appreciation of life and 67 per cent experienced a heightened sense of community.

Two years on from that devastating earthquake, I had the pleasure to speak with Jim Boult, CEO of Christchurch International Airport, ahead of his visit to Mumbai for Routes Asia. Moved by his infectious positivity and the stimulating social media projects at CHC, I’d like to share a selection of our conversation. 

Of course it is only natural to take a look over the shoulder before moving ahead, so when discussing the overall customer engagement strategy, I asked Jim about the effectiveness of social media during the crisis period. “Our social media activity paid dividends during the earthquakes and other natural events which impacted the airport and the city (snow, fog and volcanic ash cloud)” advised Jim. “At those times, we used our presence on Facebook, Twitter and our website to share all updated information. We sent media updates ahead of each hourly bulletin and also directed them to our website” – a habit they have now maintained for on-going airport information. 

“The social media aspect of our marketing strategy has, over the past three years, been predominantly focused on the new terminal development and a continued focus on the terminal services and facilities”. 

New Zealand’s South Island gateway offers a first class experience

The completion and official opening of the new terminal building will undoubtedly attract significant interest and Christchurch will use all their channels and tools to inform people about it, as they have done throughout, as change has occurred. With large passenger lounges, extra seating, improved passenger flows and enhanced retail and cafe areas, the new terminal will offer a ‘first class airport experience’. 

The plan was designed to improve the airport experience and ensure Christchurch Airport remains the preferred gateway to the South Island. It’s important to remember 85% of all international arrivals into the South Island arrive into Christchurch and research shows these visitors tend to stay longer and spend more, which is good for the whole country.

Jim advised that passenger numbers through the airport are lower at the moment than they were pre-earthquakes, during which time Christchurch lost its Convention Centre and many of the facilities which used to host major national and international events in the city. “We believe the passengers will return in greater numbers when the facilities they need are back in place, but the other trend we are seeing and readying for is the influx of migrant workers, taking advantage of the employment market associated with the rebuild”. Not surprising, as the projected rebuild costs are expected to surpass $40 B (NZD). 

Engaging with customers is the key focus

“We continue to use our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pictagram, Instagram, YouTube, with more underway) to make people aware of what is going on at Christchurch Airport”.

An increasingly connected world has enabled us to learn more about the connected traveller, gain insights and study behaviour like never before. According to Boult the social media objectives remain to increase a following, user interest and interaction with the many people interested in the airport. For Jim and the team at CHC, customer experience and customer insight continue to be key focus.
Looking ahead, CHC are working on several items and initiatives and hope to add a responsive design website to their methods of engaging with ’interested people’, so be sure to follow and support their progress – @CHC_Airport

Christchurch now sits at the top of my ‘to-visit’ list. How many other destinations in the world have skiing, golf, bungy jumping , white-water rafting, mountain biking, wind surfing, whale watching and world –class vineyards all within 2 hours of an international airport. 

Jim has the ability to look beyond the “now” and formulate strategies for future success. There are magnificent times ahead for Christchurch and I for one will be following closely the actions of this passionate and creative team as they continue to generate a real buzz – both online and offline. 

If you would like to tell us more about how your airport’s marketing strategies are evolving for a new, connected future, do write to us at airports@simpliflying.com. You can also learn more about the state of airport marketing on social media by checking out our Videographic: Social Media Outlook for Airports 2013.

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