Auckland International Airport aims to grow earnings by up to 11 per cent next year in a four-pronged plan.

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It includes a coordinated effort to attract Asian visitors to New Zealand and develop the gateway’s land into the country’s “greatest” business hub.

The airport is forecasting underlying earnings of between $160 million and $170m in the 2014 financial year, up from $153.8m in the 12 months ended June 30.

To achieve that, new chief executive Adrian Littlewood says the airport has embarked on a new five-year strategy of tourism marketing, bolstering its consumer business, sharpening up productivity, and rolling out some new investment, such as developing its extensive property holdings.

At an investor briefing, Mr Littlewood said property development has been a “really tough” market over the past five years.

Auckland Airport has set aside about 300 hectares of its 1,500 hectares of available land for commercial development in a 30-year plan, he told BusinessDesk.

“More clients we talk to want a lot more proximity to the airport,” he said.

“And the more the city grows, the closer it gets to the airport.”

The airport’s investment property portfolio was valued at $635.9m as at June 30, up from $579.8m a year earlier, and the unit delivered a 13 per cent lift in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) of $34.6m.

Mr Littlewood said the airport operator was seeing signs of life in international passenger movements, which slipped 0.2 per cent in the 12 months ended June 30, including transits.

Government figures on Wednesday showed visitor arrivals rose six per cent in July from a year earlier to a record for that month.

The airport’s aeronautical unit lifted Ebitda 4.8 per cent to $156.3m, representing 45 per cent of earnings.

Because New Zealand is a relatively small market with few leading tourism operators, Auckland Airport is taking a lead role in trying to attract international visitors, Littlewood said.

The gateway has been working with Immigration New Zealand to make it easier for Chinese travellers to get a visa, and it has linked up with Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo in a bid to turn browsing interest in visiting New Zealand into actual sales.

Auckland Airport reported a lift in net profit to $178m, in the 12 months ended June 30 from $142.3m.

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