The Queenstown Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in Australasia. It has been experiencing a double digit average growth for over two years. While this type of growth is exciting and good for business, it can be extremely challenging for operations. One area of pain, from both the operational and customer points of view, was the car park.
Queenstown Airport was very much as tourist destination airport and the car park reflected that with a large and increasing emphasis on rental car parking and grooming spaces. But the increasing population of the resort town was also putting pressure on the private car parking areas.
Initially, the car park would reach capacity on holiday long-weekends and during special events in Auckland (don’t talk to the Operations team about Adele). The situation soon became on where overflow arrangements were a regular requirement with the team even working with nearby parking providers (ie competitors) to ensure a reasonable customer experience.
The geography of the landslide area in the vicinity of the terminal meant that options for expansion within the terminal precinct were virtually non-existent. Any development in this area would need to be studied carefully, key in with the Master Plan under development at the time and require substantial capital investment.
So, to alleviate the pressure on our car park system, I was handed the task of developing and conducting a remote park and ride service trial. I actually volunteered for a project that would stretch my capabilities a couple of weeks prior - in a way, I asked for it!
Team Leadership & Development
To help me make this happen, the CEO assembled for me a cross-functional team drawn from all parts of the business. Coincidently, they nearly all volunteered for a “stretch project” as well. As with most projects within a largely operational business, I had become the leader of a team who already had full-time jobs and managers to whom they reported.
The first step was to get to know what each of the team members wanted to get out of this project. From here, I began to assign work according to both individual and project goals. And to avoid siloed work, we also came together to tackle larger project issues as a group in a series of workshops. The combination of individual and group work helped to cultivate a strong team connection and to capitalise on the team member’s strengths while exposing them to other tasks,
Options Analysis & Board Engagement
The park and ride service trial began with a near blank sheet. Previous work had looked at specific options but the team was given the opportunity to explore other options. The team relished this task and workshopped numerous ideas. We explored numerous options including constructing a low specification car park on airport land on the other side of the runway (medium capital expenditure (capex) option) and entering into an agreement with a nearby shopping centre to utilise a portion of their infrastructure from which to base the service (low capex option).
The only way we felt we could make a recommendation to the Board was through a robust modelling and options analysis. Using data from existing car park patronage, observations from nearby public parking areas and future flight schedules, the team produced Net Present Values (NPVs) for each option covering three patronage scenarios.
While no options provided a clearly viable business opportunity (this was a trial project for a reason), The comparative NPVs did provide us with a direction forward. And then a new option was presented to us from the local council.
A nearby roading project was going to need to provide off-street parking for displaced car owners and airport landing in the vicinity provided a good opportunity for the council and the airport to work together. As majority shareholder in the airport and a key stakeholder generally, the council was aware of our park and ride project and proposed that we pool our resources to construct a car park that would service both our needs.
Thanks to the previous options analysis, we were able to model this new option and show clearly to the Board that by sharing costs with council and taking advantage of economies of scale off the nearby roading project, the now clear preferred option would be “joint-venture” car park proposed to us. Without our previous analysis modelling, we would not have been able to take advantage of this last minute suggestion from the council.
From the initial stages of the project, the team was very much focussed on the Voice of the Customer. As a trial project, we knew that it would live or die by the experiences of those who would use the service. This project was more than building a car park. It was about building a new product that we wanted people to buy. Would our market take to a park and ride service?
Historically, residents of Queenstown have been from the higher end of the social-economic scale and they had been used to convenience and budget rates. Car parking prices had not changed at the airport for over four years and this new product would require a review in that pricing to be viable. Would our customers be willing to pay the same amount or more for parking with less convenience?
We didn’t know but we wanted to give ourselves the best chance by making sure that the customer experience was as intuitive, efficient and valuable as it could be. In workshop after workshop, we would challenge each other on the best way to service our customers within the scope and budget we had. We supported our approach with focus group data sourced through another car parking project and social media feedback from early engagement on the park and ride offering.
The Queenstown Airport Park & Ride Service began operation on the same day as the opening of Stage I of the new airport access road, Hawthorne Drive. While we had planned to celebrate with any customers on the first day, we were generally sceptical of whether we would actually see any that day. As it was, our first customer interrupted our own celebrations and took the very first schedule shuttle service to the terminal.
First month revenues exceeded expectations and, prior to my departure from the airport, the trend for the rest of the trial was extremely positive. In addition to this, the new park and ride service relieved the pressure in the existing car parks and helped to usher in a new pricing regime thanks to a level of reliability that had not existing in the terminal precinct for some time. The Operations team we glad to dis-establish its overflow procedures.
Leading this project was one of the highlights of my time at Queenstown Airport but it was not at all possible without the help of Rowan, Kylie, Shikha, Chris, Sophie, Naomi & Colin.