MIL OSI – Source: Asia New Zealand Foundation – Press Release/Statement
Headline: Personal touch key to building Asia business relationships
General manager Airlines and Alliances Mathew Findlay spoke in Auckland this month as part of the Foundation’s business speaker series. He discussed building business relationships in Asia and attracting airlines back to Christchurch following the 2010/2011 earthquakes.
For five years Matthew Findlay’s been tasked with the complex job of rebuilding Christchurch Airport’s network of airlines and alliances. Yet when he returns from high-powered business trips to Asia, he’s been known to do a very simple thing: he writes a postcard.
He says the postcard might have an image of a skier ploughing fresh snow on a Canterbury ski field, or maybe the flick of a whale’s tail in the seas off the Kaikoura coast. He writes a message by hand, attaches a specially-designed Christchurch airport stamp, and sends it off to contacts at the companies he’s just visited.
Findlay says a focus on people is at the heart of building strong business ties with Asia and small gestures can make the difference. He says he puts in plenty of ground work establishing relationships, often for years before tangible results are seen.
“It’s all about endurance.”
It can require a change of business mindset for many New Zealanders, he says.
“It’s not about the transaction. Sometimes Kiwis are very transactional. You know, what’s the outcome I want, that’s where I want to get to.
“When I talk about enduring relationships, I am talking about the long-term. You are having conversations today that may not transpire to an outcome for one year, or three or four or five years.”
During Findlay’s tenure at the airport, both China Southern Airlines and China Airlines announced their first-ever services to the southern city. Securing China Southern Airlines, for example, took two passports, four years, and 28 separate visits, he says.
When China Southern’s decision makers were not convinced about the South Island’s marketability, Findlay was able to draw on the accolades of staff within the company, who had holidayed there.
China Southern was already flying to Auckland Airport, but Findlay was able to highlight the experiences of a staff member who’d had a terrible domestic transfer before finally making it south.
Effective communication of a brand is important and Findlay cautions that in playing the long-game, conversations often need to be repeated again and again, to different people, so a businesses’ story needs to be consistent and concise.
Christchurch Airport was the first in New Zealand to install multilingual signage, and Findlay says it goes a long way towards making people feel welcome.
“So often people that land in our part of the world don’t speak our language, so having signage that is in their own tongue is, of course, another way to endear yourself to what is increasingly a global market place.”
Findlay says Christchurch Airport has an innovative approach—doing things in the market, such as freight seminars, that not many other airports do.
“We actively engage with the communities with which these airlines serve, both at their hub but also at other points where markets are important.”
In working to show China Airlines the value of a relationship with the airport, for example, a lot was invested in Japan.
China Airlines serves 13 different points in Japan, and “the Japanese love the South Island”.
He says it’s about showing the airlines why it makes sense for them to come to Christchurch.
Findlay says the focus needs to be wider than just the tourist dollar to successfully do this.
“It’s always about the visitor economy—not so much tourism, because tourism is a discretionary spend.
“How you engage with those that are coming for conferences, for education, for health reasons, for any other number of reasons why they end up on that seat in that aircraft…At the end of the day, what you want to create in these markets is an opportunity for these businesses to sell a seat.
“You are pulling on a number of different strings to get those opportunities across the line.”