THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS
Founder and CEO of the Plaza Premium Group, Song Hoi-see, reflects on his company’s 20th anniversary and expanding business portfolio.
What gave you the idea to start your own independent pay-to-use airport lounge business?
The idea came from a personal need not being met. Twenty years ago lounges were only available to business and first-class passengers and, as an economy class traveller, I couldn’t use them. The idea actually sprung into my mind when I found myself sitting on the ground looking for an outlet to charge my laptop!
You started in 1998 with airport lounges in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. How many do you operate today?
Plaza Premium Group currently operates in over 160 locations across 42 airports. In terms of business developments in 2018, we opened lounges in Rome, Jakarta, Melbourne and Ahmedabad as well as our new Plaza Premium First concept in Hong Kong. The opening of a second location at Toronto Pearson will be followed by more openings across China, Europe and the US in 2019, which will include Helsinki and Denver airports.
How are you using new technology and ‘big data’ to raise the airport hospitality bar?
In this digital age, many companies in the aviation industry are using ‘big data’ to take customer service and customer interaction to the next level, and we are no exception. For us, it’s all about the ‘personalisation’ of our services. Everyone has different travel needs and it is important for us to identify and anticipate what travellers want.
While human interaction will never be replaced, it is important to invest in technology that will generate insight to improve customer engagement. One way we are collecting data to improve our service to passengers is through our travel reward programme, Arrture, which is free of charge to join. Gaining a better understanding of traveller’s experiential touchpoints, we develop an algorithm to anticipate their preferences based on their past behaviour and this allows us to tailor our products and services to ensure a better airport experience.
Is the company’s future inextricably linked with the giant on your doorstep, mainland China?
China has always been a key market for Plaza Premium Group and will continue to be so as it becomes one of the world’s largest aviation markets. We have been managing lounges in collaboration with partner airlines in China for years and have just opened China’s first Aerotel, our airport hotel concept, in Guangzhou. Apart from Aerotel, we have signed business agreements with a number of key airport hubs in China which include Shenzhen Bao’an, Qingdao Liuting, Beijing Capital and Zhengzhou Xinzheng.
How has your business evolved over the last 20 years?
There are two ways to business expansion and, as the pioneer of airport hospitality services, it is crucial for us to expand both laterally and horizontally. Since launching our first airport lounge in Hong Kong, we have developed and expanded the business model to include an Arrival and Plaza Premium First lounge – for travellers looking for a more refined experience – in Hong Kong, to building, managing and operating third party airline lounges for SkyTeam and Star Alliance and corporate lounges for AMEX and other clients.
Expanding horizontally requires understanding travellers ‘pain points’ and their behaviour in order to contribute to enhancing the airport eco-system. Developing Aerotel, the world’s first airport transit hotel chain; Allways, our VIP meet and greet service; Wellness salons; and our airport dining concepts (Root98, Terrace and TGM) are all services that have developed to suit evolving travel needs.
My vision has never changed, 20 years ago I wanted to make lounge access possible for the majority of people and each brand came to life by identifying traveller’s pain points and inefficiency gaps at airports. As the pioneer of global airport hospitality provider, it is crucial to bridge these inefficiency gaps and to work towards creating a seamless airport experience.