Plaza Premium Lounge redefines flying privileges

IT is interesting how in the throes of the global economic meltdown starting in 2009 followed by a continuing slow recovery when airlines curtail services in response to a fall in demand for premium travel and embark on drastic exercises to reduce costs, Plaza Premium Lounge continues to grow and develop its expertise in lounge management. Today its presence is stamped in many airports around the world, in countries that include China, India, Singapore, the Middle East, Canada and soon the UK and Australia.

Courtesy Plaza Premium Lounge

Courtesy Plaza Premium Lounge

Founder Song Hoi See started the first Plaza lounge at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and at Hong Kong International Airport (where the company is headquartered) in 1998 when it was still a tradition for airlines to manage their own lounges for first and business class passengers. Economy class passengers could only wonder at the favoured treatment behind the walls, but thanks to Mr Song, they can now avail themselves of the privilege, no matter which airlines or class they fly, at a fee. This concept has proven to be so successful that Plaza now has its own brand lounge in some 20 locations around the world including two new ones, one in Abu Dhabi and the other in London Heathrow scheduled to open this year. A Plaza lounge in Sydney Kingsford-Smith International Airport is also in the works.

Plaza has been blessed by the shift in air travel trends and the airline business since Mr Song started his pay-per-use lounge.

First, economy class passengers no longer see themselves deprived of a facility hitherto catered to only premier classes and are more than willing to spend a small fee for the privilege. At a time when airlines are doing away with expensive perks and fares for the upper classes become exorbitant, it is small beer to pay for the concession. As Mr Song would point out, do not forget that the majority of air travellers are booked in economy. And with the growing middle class, especially in China and India, the concept has gained popularity.Plaza Premium Lounge_Seating_YVR (2)

Second, airlines have begun to outsource the management of their lounges or use independent lounges for their favoured customers instead of owning or leasing the property themselves, and Plaza as a leader in the field stands to gain from this trend. Contrary to the initial reaction that the airlines are Plaza’s direct competitors, Mr Hoi saw this as a “misconception”. He said: “Airlines in fact complement our services and vice versa.” Among the airlines – which Mr Hoi prefers to call “partner airlines” – that have entrusted their services to Plaza are Cathay Pacific (The Bridge), Thai Airways, Air France/KLM and United Airlines.

Third, airports are beginning to see how a pay-per-use lounge as another passenger facility could enhance their image, hence opportunities abound for Plaza especially at hub airports. As a forerunner in promoting the concept, Plaza has garnered the experience and expertise that some airports now seek to promote the same concept, inviting them to assist in its development, designing and subsequent management of the facility even if it does not carry the Plaza brand name.The benefit of such a facility is underscored by the recognition that, as said by Vancouver Airport Authority’s senior vice president of marketing and business development Tony Gugliotta on the occasion of the opening of a new Plaza lounge at Vancouver International Airport recently: “For today’s discerning passengersm their trip begins at the airport…”

So what looked like an Asian phenomenon when Mr Hoi first started has become a global application. Is he concerned about other agencies setting up competitive bids? No, he said, since “we have developed a strong brand supported by the economies of scale, an excellent training system and a dynamic management team focusing on providing a quality of service that is world-class.” For now, the path ahead for Plaza is growth.

You can read my full interview of Mr Song Hoi See, CEO Plaza Premium Lounge at http://www.aspireaviation.com

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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