Flying economy shouldn’t translate to a lacklustre travel experience. At least, that was the premise behind the founding of Plaza Premium Group. As an investment banker, Founder and CEO Hoi-see Song was accustomed to the finer things in travel – upscale lounges, breakfast bars and barista-style espressos to name a few.
All of that changed, however, when he left his career to launch his own business, which found him flying economy class. The travel experience was all of a sudden lacking, in his opinion, and he felt it hard to concentrate and work effectively while on the go.
Realising this gap in the market was the catalyst for his new endeavour. In 1998, Hoi-see launched the first Plaza Premium Lounges at Hong Kong International Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
They were the world’s first independent airport lounges to be open to all travellers regardless of airline or travel class. With his vision and initiative, Hoi-see changed the perception that airport lounges should be reserved solely for premium travellers.
To date, the company boasts an international footprint of more than 170 locations across 46 international airports in 23 countries and regions. Plaza Premium Lounges serve more than 16 million travellers annually.
With more than 20 years’ experience, the service-oriented company is the benchmark for airport value-added services worldwide. The brand was introduced to India in 2008 under joint venture company Premium Port Lounge Management Company Pvt Ltd with joint directorship of Dinesh Jhunjhunwala and Hoi-see Song.
“In the past 12 years, we have successfully expanded into four locations thanks to the valued support of our partners and guests,” Dinesh says.
“Our lounges are highly praised. Just last year, our India team won more than 10 awards from established media to hospitality industry awards, including the leading domestic airport lounge award by World Travel Awards 2019. We also received the Travel + Leisure Magazine award for Best Airport Lounge in India.”
It’s rather unsurprising that the group is so successful. Its dedication to providing bespoke experiences for its travelling customers is top of the line. The team at Plaza Premium Lounge is constantly evolving and enhancing its offerings to keep up with its customers’ varied needs.
“We don’t believe in one size fits all,” Dinesh says. “Travellers’ needs change from city to city. In order to meet these evolving demands and undo the monotonous experiences, we use our strength in interior design to create experiences, functionality and ambience to connect with travellers.”
It’s one of the group’s guiding principles, dubbed ‘Sense of Place’, and it helps to make travellers feel more in the present. In the Plaza Premium Lounges in India, specially curated glimpses of the respective cities are featured on what is called the ‘Sense of Wall’.
The wall at their lounge in the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI), Delhi, for example, features mesmerising pictures of the city’s rich heritage and most visited places, including Lotus Temple, Red Fort, India Gate and Qutub Minar.
In addition, the Group introduced live kitchen counters, offering guests a glimpse into the cooking preparations. Tea stations also line the lounges, and even the smallest guests are attended to – dedicated kids’ zones have been worked into the Group’s new lounge designs.
After all, Plaza Premium’s mission is to make travel better for all travellers. “Our primary objective is to offer more travellers impeccable experiences regardless of airline or travel class. We want to become their favourite and preferred independent airport lounge in major international and domestic airports,” he says.
“Our key areas of focus for the next year or so will be to actively look for opportunities to expand our reach into more cities in the Indian market with new openings. Meanwhile, we will also aim to refurbish our existing lounges to increase the capacity, remodel their designs and introduce add-on services to enhance the travellers’ experiences further.”
The lounge at international departures of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad has recently been transformed into a weary traveller’s dream.
A relaxing atmosphere replete with comfortable recliners, beautiful dining areas, premium single-malt liquors and a grab-and-go menu welcome guests to the lounge. Soon, Dinesh says, similar lounging experiences will be available at domestic departures too.
Plaza Premium Group is also the only authorised Meet-and-Greet Service provider at IGI T3. “Our Allways Meet & Greet service is gaining traction with travellers,” he says.
“With more than 65 million people travelling through IGI, Allways is a bespoke service by our professional and welcoming team that provides a seamless airport experience while travellers depart, transit or arrive at IGI.”
In 2018, the Group developed Plaza Premium First, an elevated and refined independent airport lounge concept that caters to discerning travellers seeking personalised services. Dinesh says they’re hoping to bring this concept to India soon.
Our primary objective is to offer more travellers impeccable travel experiences regardless of airline or travel class to become their favourite and preferred independent airport lounge in major international and domestic airports.
As it stands now, the group offers an array of services, including porter assistance, baggage handling, buggy service and lounge stay with guidance to immigration. To continually evolve with travellers’ ever-increasing demands and stay at the forefront of the industry, the group turns to technology.
“Innovation is an integral part of our group’s core values, which also include excellent services and teamwork,” Dinesh explains.
“Our company developed its own IT solutions to ensure the system fits perfectly with what our lounge business needs to capture in the day to day. And our company will continue to adapt digitalisation to ensure a smooth online-to-offline journey.
“I believe that technologies like artificial intelligence will help companies dive deep into customer demands and behaviours,” he continues.
“Imagine witnessing the power of AR to relish reality-based games or simply to browse through digital shopping options with VR while sitting at an airport. AI-driven, heat-map technology is among a few things we are exploring to test run in the Indian market to understand our customers’ needs in a better way.”
Apart from technology, though, it all comes down to good old-fashioned humanity to keep the company on track.
“Airport hospitality is always a people business. No matter how much or what kind of technology we bring in, nothing can replace your own people who work with pride and passion, day and night, to achieve our brand’s commitment towards our guests,” Dinesh stresses.
“Business culture defines who we are. It humanises our organisation by adding character and a value system. We hold open forums where colleagues from all departments are welcome to speak their minds, share suggestions and provide feedback. They’re our brand ambassadors, and we like to motivate them with awards, recognition activities and even with things as simple as a thank-you note to let them know we appreciate them for going beyond their call of duty.”
It’s the people behind the brand and their relentless pursuit to create the best experience possible for each traveller that beats out all the bells and whistles the lounges could ever be outfitted with.
“In India, we believe in ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, implying ‘the guest is God’,” Dinesh says. “I consider this as our ultimate vision and a great opportunity to spread this message among all travellers as we continue to work harder to ensure their travel becomes seamless and worry-free.”