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Justin Watson

Chief Executive

22 March 2023

Introducing our new Chief Executive… Justin. Born in Canada but now calls Ōtautahi Christchurch home, Justin shares with us some highlights of his career and his involvement with Lord of the Rings and China Southern Airlines.

Congratulations, you’ve recently been appointed our new Chief Executive! Can you tell us what your role was previously? Before becoming Chief Executive, I was Chief Aeronautical and Commercial Officer, which meant I was responsible for getting more planes and passengers to the airport as well as terminal operations and retail.

What has led you to this career? I started out training to be a commercial pilot at the Canterbury Aero Club (when it was on its old site by the Novotel). Unfortunately, I had recurring issues with my ears and ended up having to choose a different course. This led me to finish my commerce degree and get a job with DB Breweries in marketing when I finished at university. From there, I worked in marketing and leadership roles at Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Tourism New Zealand. My role at Tourism New Zealand got me back into aviation and promoting New Zealand as a visitor destination.

What do you love most about your job? I love that we are more than just bricks and mortar. We’re a business which has a massive impact on Ōtautahi Christchurch and the wider South Island, through tourism, trade and property. Having a bigger purpose has always been important for me and it’s why I get excited about what we do.

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve worked on here? So hard to pick one - there’s a lot of projects I’m really proud to have been involved in because as a team we do such awesome things. Personally, the work to convince Asia’s largest airline, China Southern Airlines, to fly to Christchurch ranks right up there. Seeing the South Island come together to fly in formation and attract a direct service was amazing.

Importantly, that service brings in more than $150 million in visitor spend and $500 million in freight per annum for the South Island. It’s pretty cool to be involved in something that has such a profound influence on a lot of businesses in the South Island.

Coolest project you’ve ever worked on? It has to be the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings marketing campaign I was involved in with Tourism New Zealand. Working in Hollywood and being able to showcase our beautiful country was a once in a lifetime experience. I also got to attend the premiere after party with Ed Sheeran, which was pretty cool.

Favourite airport initiative? Our solar development, Kōwhai Park, is such an amazing initiative. We’re creating New Zealand’s largest solar field to power the next generation of green energy, including sustainable aviation. This is truly an intergenerational initiative for those who come after us.

Most exciting moment on the job? Watching the Emirates A380 coming in to land for the first time. Truly breathtaking.

Most memorable Christchurch Airport experience? The way we came together as a team through COVID-19 - helping with repatriation flights, returning New Zealanders into MIQ, and keeping our high value freight lines open. All things I’ll forever be proud of.

What excites you about the next 3-5 years at the airport? The opportunity for Ōtautahi Christchurch as a visitor destination has never been stronger. With amazing new facilities like Riverside Market, Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, and Te Kaha Stadium, the city is well placed to attract heaps of visitors … all coming through our great airport.

Tell us one thing that most people wouldn’t know about you. I managed to get scurvy when I was at university, after working on a ski field in Japan. There was a fruit and vegetable shortage and our employer didn’t provide us with any for three months!

What are you happiest doing when you’re not working? I’m an active relaxer so love being busy. Wanaka is my go-to place for holidays, because I love boating, skiing and biking.

Biggest life accomplishment so far? There’s not just one thing for me, but a life lived to the max with family and friends and a memory bank that’s overflowing.

Where’s your home town and what’s its best-kept secret? While I was born in Canada, Ōtautahi Christchurch has been my home for most of my life. I don’t think you can beat biking around our awesome new city.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their career at the airport? Take whatever opportunity comes at you and if you work hard and enjoy what you do, you can do almost anything you want.