European expansion: the independent lounge comes to Heathrow

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Left: Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited opened its newest independent lounge in May 2015 in the departures area of Terminal 4 (T4) at London Heathrow Airport

Song Hoi-see, founder and CEO of Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited, speaks to Passenger Terminal World about the company’s expansion into Europe through London Heathrow and the planned opening of a new airport hotel

Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited (PPLML) operates 120 independent airport lounges across 35 international airports worldwide. This includes luxury departure and arrival lounges, as well as short-stay hotels.

The company’s founder, Song Hoi-see, established the first independent lounge, Plaza Premium Lounge (PPL), in Hong Kong International Airport in 1998.

How did the independent lounge idea come about?

I used to be an investment banker many years ago and I was used to traveling in first and business class. This meant that I had exclusive access to the lounges that belonged to whichever airline I was flying with.

Eventually I started my own company and I began traveling economy class as every penny counted. I found that there was nowhere to charge my phone or laptop except for airport power sockets (that were not intended for use by passengers), which was embarrassing. That’s when I decided to set up an independent lounge that would give passengers traveling in economy like myself somewhere to rest and relax. Passengers who didn’t have access to the airline lounges could pay a small fee to recharge and relax prior to, or after, their flight.

Why did you choose London Heathrow Airport as your first European location?

Whenever we expand into a new country, we go to a major hub first. For example, in Australia we went to Sydney Airport first and then expanded to Brisbane Airport. We are doing the same at London Heathrow and we believe that when other UK airports see the quality of service that we are delivering, they will invite us to set up in their airports too. Quality will prevail and airports will see PPL as a value-added service.

What does the future hold for PPLML at London Heathrow?

We currently have Plaza Premium lounges in Terminal 2 (T2) departures and arrivals, which opened in August 2014. We have also just opened a departure lounge in Terminal 4 (T4) on June 5, 2015.

In the future we are going to build a T4 arrival lounge, and we are looking at expanding into Terminal 3 (T3) with a new short-stay airport hotel. We may also look at further lounges in T3 and Terminal 5 (T5). London Heathrow is our first location in Europe and we want it to act as a base of operations for other projects on the continent.

Tell us more about the hotel you are opening at London Heathrow?

The new Terminal 3 (T3) hotel will have 78 rooms and should be ready by the second quarter of 2016. It will cost around US$10m to build and will have basic facilities included in the price such as wi-fi, a small café, and en-suite showers and toilets.

Why have you opened your first European airport hotel in London Heathrow?

Just like with our airport lounges, we looked at the market to see where customer requirements weren’t being met. The trains running to Heathrow finish shortly after midnight and travelers sometimes need somewhere to stay. This means dragging their luggage onto a bus after a long flight to stay in a hotel at a full night’s rate, even if they are only staying for a few hours.

Our hotel will be located in the terminal and passengers can go straight there to rest for a few hours directly after their flight. You don’t have to pay a 24-hour room rate and can stay for only a couple of hours at a time. It’s very convenient and you don’t have to struggle with your luggage. Our rooms are not as large as some of the other hotels, but we believe in paying for what you use. A standard hotel will cost you around £100-£200 (US$155-US$310) per night. We are talking about something significantly cheaper, depending on how many hours you stay for. You also save time and effort because the service is so convenient.

How has the independent lounge adapted over the years to meet the requirements of the modern passenger?

Travelers have become savvier with time and they want to maintain a certain lifestyle. This is why modern airports have so many new retail developments and a simplified departure process. The airport lounge is also part of that lifestyle and has to meet these modern requirements. That is why we have also set up our food and beverage (F&B) and meet-and-greet services alongside the hotels and lounges.

We realize that modern passengers want good quality, healthy dining options, and not just deep-fried fast food. In order to run a healthy food concept in an airport you must have your own F&B business. Our food is complimentary so passengers do not need to part with any more money when they arrive in the lounge. In terms of the cuisine, we look at local dishes that we can incorporate, and combine this with our signature dishes. These dishes focus on quality over quantity.

With our meet-and-greet services, we can meet passengers from the minute they land and then usher them through to the lounge and then onto their onward transportation. This also works for departing passengers if necessary, where we can guide them through the security process into the lounge and then onto their flight. It’s an end-to-end service that enhances the passenger experience. No matter what service we are delivering, we always ensure that we deliver convenience, comfort, care, and value to our end users. 

Song Hoi-see launched the world’s first independent airport lounges – Plaza Premium Lounges – at Hong Kong International Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 1998.

Today, PPLML services range from designing, operating and managing premium airport lounges, both independent and on behalf of airlines, meet and greet services, transit hotels, dining concepts and spas, in more than 120 locations in 35 international airports.

Under Song’s leadership, the company has won many industry awards. Song is the co-founder and vice chairman of the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau, and serves as the president of the Hong Kong Rotary Club of Shatin. 

June 19, 2015

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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