Adrian Littlewood believes technological developments - particularly around data mining - place business at the start of "an incredible wave of productivity for decades to come".
"Airports are awash with data and I think they have only started to wake to the potential and the ability to optimise that," says the Auckland Airport boss. "We've shaved something like 27 minutes off the average arrival processing time since 2009."
Littlewood - acknowledging the part Air NZ has played with its innovative self-service check-ins - says faster through-put delays the point at which more investment has to be triggered to build larger terminals to handle growth. The airport company co-ordinates and shares information security, customs, airlines and travel agents so people can make decisions on a real-time basis to optimise labour and services. "The airport more than any infrastructure is about managing the peaks very carefully because your peak is where your next lick of investment is required. Managing peaks in a streamlined way will deliver benefits in the long term and that is why I think there's some very interesting things there."
Littlewood - one of a new wave of tourism chiefs including Air New Zealand's Christopher Luxon and Tourism NZ's Martin Sneddon - says the airport has reoriented to be much more engaged in the industry driving tourism growth here. On Luxon he says "I think we've both been quite open about our objective around genuine capacity growth in this country and this means that we are aligned and that's fantastic.
Littlewood cites Ambition 2020 ("our provocation to the industry") as integral to lifting the tourism industry's sights to what is possible. "When you've got 3 billion people in Asia Pacific about to merge into middle classes you know once they've got a roof over their head, protein in their tummy and education, what they want to do is travel."
He says the airport set a target of around 500,000 Chinese annual visitors by 2020. "At the 30 per cent growth rate we're travelling at, that absolutely achievable. But if we're not going to get that kind of growth, we will be losing our relative position in the world because every other country, frankly, is going after that growth."
If Adrian Littlewood had the ability to make one change to improve New Zealand it would be to lift NZ's level of aspiration. "We have a lot going for us a country but we need to aim higher."
Best achievement past 12 months: Getting the NZ tourism industry to come together and start building a private sector plan to grow tourism into NZ faster than before. Littlewood's top three business priorities for the next 12 months:
Creating capacity for future growth
Driving improved operating productivity
Capturing tourism growth out of fast growing Asia-Pacific markets.
The single biggest factor that would assist Auckland Airport to remain internationally competitive from NZ: Growth in airline seats/routes into NZ.