When Song Hoi-See, the trailblazing founder of the independent airport lounge, opened his first location in Hong Kong International Airport 16 years ago, he removed the barrier that previously had made lounges exclusive to the business class, and revolutionised the airport experience for passengers travelling economy. Driven by a heartfelt desire “to do something for the majority”, today, Plaza Premium Lounge operates 128 lounges in 35 airport locations, and now is pioneering another brand new concept set to transform the way we travel – the airport transit hotel. Amy Hanna reports.
It is quite conceivable that Song Hoi-See, the pioneering founder & Chief Executive Officer of Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited, knows the modern traveller better than anyone else in the industry. More than 16 years’ experience offering unparalleled premium airport services has provided him with unmatched opportunity to explore the needs of the passenger, and today Plaza Premium Lounge stands out as a touchstone for quality in value-added airport services.
An understanding of travellers’ requirements is at the very root of Plaza Premium Lounge. Following a senior career in investment banking, Song embarked on the creation of his own business, which found him flying economy class and without the working advantages of the lounges that he had previously enjoyed. From this was borne Song’s vision, that airport lounges should be available to all passengers instead of just a privileged few, and since the opening the world’s first independent airport lounges at Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur international airports in 1998, Plaza Premium has come to serve six million passengers from 120 outlets in 35 gateways, and prompted airport authorities around the world to embrace independent lounge facilities that transform the traveller experience.
“This business is only the tip of the iceberg,” Song described. “There are more than 2,000 international airports across the world, 1,000 of which would work well for us. We are presently in just 3% of this market and still today there is a perception that lounges are only for premium travellers, but once people come to know about these types of services – particularly transiting passengers – there is a world of potential to be discovered.”
Behind this burgeoning business, Song explained, is the transition of the travelling experience to a mindset – a lifestyle, in which service has become ever more significant. As more business travellers take to flying economy with the proliferation of low cost carriers and as professional travel combines with pleasure, it is ever more important to stay connected with features such as WiFi and electricity. Alongside these assets, Plaza Premium Lounge offers unprecedented experiences through a delighting offer of frequently refreshed cocktail menus, interactive open kitchens creating healthy, regional specialties, fluid work spaces, and relaxation areas in beautiful, carefully curated, surroundings – all created, Song explained, to ‘wow’ the passenger. Known to the industry as ‘The Merchant of Convenience’, Song’s unmistakable passion for creating an extraordinary passenger experience is reflected in each of Plaza Premium Lounge’s locations – differentiated from their competitors by the four “products” in which they specialise: comfort, convenience, love and care, and value.
The personal experience
Most recently, Plaza Premium Lounge opened the first independent lounge in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4 Departures, following the launch of its presence at the airport last year in Terminal 2 Departures and Arrivals. The stylish and contemporary lounge is the exciting first step in Plaza Premium Lounge’s US$40 million global development plan, which will see new openings in Brisbane, Phnom Penh, Salalah, Singapore, Siem Reap and Winnipeg in the coming months – as well as the creation of the first independent lounge for China Eastern at Shanghai Pudong.
Song also revealed to Airport Business his inspiring ambition for his next development at Heathrow Airport. By the second quarter of 2016, he will open his first UK airport hotel in Terminal 3 – a revolutionary location tailored to the particular needs of the transiting passenger. Over £10 million will be invested in this sanctuary for travellers, which will become one of the first of Plaza Premium Lounge’s new airport hotels. There, passengers will be able to shower, take a short sleep, have breakfast, enjoy a massage, and refresh ahead of their next meeting or flight in what Song has described as an “oasis” in the international journey. “There are many names that we associate with hotel stays, names that we know well because of their reputations,” he said. “But today there is no one name anywhere in the world that is synonymous with transit hotels. Our airport hotel will become that name – that is my vision.”
In the next year, Song will create his first airport hotels at the gateways of Abu Dhabi and also Singapore, where passengers will even be able to enjoy a cocktail under the sun by a swimming pool, minutes from the terminal. “I want people to come to, and to love, our airport hotels, for that to happen there must be a story that they talk about – it must have the qualities that they look for. And that always comes back to our four qualities of comfort, convenience, love and care, and value. If we can deliver these four things to customers, the travel experience will reach new heights, and they will come back – and that is what is important.”