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Plaza Premium Founder and CEO Shares His Journey the last 20 Years

Plaza Premium Group, has recently celebrated 20th anniversary since opening the world’s first Plaza Premium Lounge.

20 Years in Shaping Airport Hospitality

The Group’s Founder and CEO Mr. Song Hoi See, reflects on his journey over the last 20 years, and shares his vision for the next 20 years.

In 1998, travelling was simpler, less restrictive, albeit more expensive. Plaza Premium Group was formed to enhance the value that I felt then, as a passenger, was not being delivered despite the high cost of flying.  To transform the airport experience for our fellow passengers was our objective, which 20 years on remains core at the heart of what we do.

We started our flagship brand, Plaza Premium Lounge, out of a personal need that was not being met. From an airport lounge to now a 5,000-people team around the world offering a comprehensive global airport hospitality solution, we witness significant developments in air travelling since 1998.

Lounges are now an expectation rather than a luxury

Our aim has always been to create comfort, convenience, and value for our customers. A key differentiator then and now is the concept of lounging. 20 years ago, lounge access was for the chosen few, a luxury only afforded by the very top echelon of the society.

Over the years, we have noted a shift in lounging. This is largely driven by the ever-changing demographics of the customers walking into our lounges. While lounge access was once a perk for high spenders, now, access to lounge is more of an expectation for discerning travellers regardless of travel class. The rise of premium economy class reflects the extra comfort and privileges passengers desire without having to pay for business class. The passengers’ needs while in the lounge has also changed. The needs vary from the many travel types, travel sizes to travel objectives, which are fairly different from 20 years ago when air travelling is less affordable. Those were the days when airport lounges are only limited to business and first class passengers. As the world’s first independent lounge operator, we take pride in opening up lounge experience to the majority of air travellers.

Airport – Destination on its own

According to IATA (International Air Transport Association), approximately 4.3 billion passengers are expected to fly in 2018. That’s over half of the global population accessing airports across the world in one year. This is no mean feat for the aviation industry, aviation experts have noted the value that the industry adds to the global economy, by bringing people, products and business together. However, this immense growth has its shortfall times of travel. Over the years, we have seen queues getting longer at check-in, passengers getting more frustrated by extra security checks and spending longer durations at airports. What is frustrating for us all is the fact that the infrastructure developments especially at most airports hasn’t been as robust as is the growth on the other elements of aviation.

Airports are a destination on their own right, it is a premise we have held over the years. Majority of global airlines operate a hub system where they prioritise specific airports as their hubs and connecting their passengers in these airports. Key transit hubs like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, London and primary city airports in China have implemented plans in upgrading airport facilities both aeronautical and non-aeronautical not just to cater to the ‘volume’ of passengers but to create a destination experience.

Big Data Age

Good customer service is the bedrock of hospitality business and it comes from the heart and soul of customer service providers. At the era of digital, organisations use big data to take customer service and customer interactions to the next level.

While human interaction will never be replaced, it is important to invest in technology that will generate insights for us to improve on customer engagement. Plaza Premium Group’s digital development goal is to implement a system that can anticipate our customers’ preferences based on their past behavior, but most importantly to helps us manage the overall customer experience starting from arrival to departure.

When loyalty programs such as frequent flyer and credit card rewards were non-existent, it was difficult to use data to improve customer service and add values throughout a customer journey.

Twenty years later we have witnessed a revolution in the travel industry. Peronalised, relevant communications and value-added services are expected by travellers. Travel segments have widened with more options ranging from premium economy to budget travel. Being in a competitive environment, customer loyalty is now crucial as more value is being added to different loyalty programs across the globe.

Beyond First/Business Class Passengers

I found Plaza Premium Lounge with a mission to serve the majority of travellers.

As travel needs evolves and diversifies, we didn’t just end our journey at lounges, we launched Wellness, a spa and salon designed for travellers; a collection of dining concept ranging from Chinese (Terrace), Japanese (TGM), to Western (Flight Club and Flight Club Grab ‘n’ Go) and Aerotel, our flagship hotel brand launched over two years ago. A one of a kind airport transit hotel, Aerotel offers convenient and comfortable airport accommodation for passengers with long transit durations. Passengers are able to have a quick rest, catch up on work and enjoy the hotel facilities without the need to leave the terminal building. Airports are destinations in their own right.

Plaza Premium First our new concept, redefines an elevated airport lounge concept that brings an array of all-inclusive personalised services and fine dining experiences amid a relaxing ambiance. This concept seeks to address the growing number of passengers who are even more discerning and demanding.

Our Vision for The Next 20 Years and Beyond

In celebration of Plaza Premium Group’s 20thAnniversary, we are honoured to have won “World’s Best Independent Airport Lounge” accolade from Skytrax 2018 for the third consecutive year.

In the future, I anticipate a different customer base as compared to 20 years ago. Millennials are changing travel habits, UNTO (United Nation World Tourism Organisation) estimated that young travellers ages 15 to 29 represents 23% of all international travellers in 2015. Research shows that the millennials prefer value over cost and experiences over materialistic possessions.

Hospitality organisations with us included will review their goals and objectives in regards to the future passengers’ demographics and travel habits. Reliance and investment on technology will be a must for the industry to improve on customer engagement.

We foresee a closer collaboration among the airport and travel industry players, utilising the use of big data to create customer-first airport hospitality. Use of technology will lead to a seamless customer experience across the airport ecosystem.

Customer satisfaction was the driving force 20 years ago when the company started. It is the same today and will remain the core of Plaza Premium Group in the next 20 years.

Thank you for your patronage and business over the last 20 years, we look forward to offering you world class standard airport hospitality over the next 20 years and beyond.

How do we stay being the best? We must continue to evolve with travel trends to being the most relevant and customer-centric airport experience.