Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon

By Nikki Birrell at NZHIC in Auckland

Air New Zealand CEO Chris Luxon’s keynote speech at this year’s at this year’s New Zealand Hotel Industry Conference (NZHIC) in Auckland this week (July 5) was one of the highlights of the event.

His presentation had many take-home messages for the hotel industry and Luxon started by explaining that the four years he spent as a porter concierge in his youth were pivotal to his learnings around service values that put him in good stead to grow Air New Zealand to the industry leader it is today.

“It’s here that you learn about following good guidelines and having good process but also stepping up and demonstrating can-do spirit and your judgement and your intellect to solve a problem for a customer or a visitor,” he said.

“It’s here we learn to welcome people as a friend and to treat our visitors as we would want our families or friends to be treated. It’s here we learn how to be ourselves, to be our best selves, what it means to be a New Zealander to people who are new to our country. It’s here that you can share your passion for the country and to present the country to people who are curious about it,” Luxon said.

His speech was also heavily focused on the importance of investing in the culture of a company.

“Culture really matters,” Luxon said. “Everything we do at Air NZ can be copied – people talk about us as a small and irrelevant airline, so how are we so successful? Why do we punch above our weight? It all comes back to our people. [We want] fired-up people who want to come to work and are more than engaged than those doing the same jobs for the competitors, who give that 2-5% differential effort and goodwill to improve the customer service, to improve the commercial results – those things are highly interdependent on each other.”

Luxon also talked about innovation and announced the airlines plans for new routes to Chicago and Taiwan, the key area of growth for Air NZ being New Zealand’s closer proximity to the Americas than Australia and tapping into that market, plus aiming for a higher value customer.

Luxon said there were five challenges and provocations he wanted the hotel industry to think about.
1. He said it is about increasing high productivity by diving into more high-value customers. Value over volume.
2. Luxon acknowledged the critical constraints around infrastructure but encouraged people to keep investing in this.
3. He asked “how well do you know your customer? How do you remove pain points and frustrations for them?”
4. Luxon pointed out that the industry would do better to work together on common issues. He used the example of the competition between airlines in the Tasman. “When there is a common issue, we unite strong. We form an alliance to go and lobby for what we all need. I would love to see more of the hotel industry coming together united to delve into the big issues of common interest.”
5. He also implored businesses to invest in leaders, in people and culture and to “build a quality system”.