A bad experience led to a brilliant idea.
Hong Kong Business recently had the chance to speak with Song Hoi-see, founder and CEO of Plaza Premium Lounge Management. He shared his inspiration in pioneering the airport pay-in lounge concept in Hong Kong over a decade ago.
HKB: How did you come up with the idea of an airport pay-in lounge? What was your inspiration?
I founded this concept based on my personal bad experience as a business traveller in the old Kai Tak Airport many years ago, when I started my own business leaving my bank job, I travelled on my own expenses (economy class) and I found the airport experience to be very unfriendly and uncomfortable. There was nowhere to fax or charge my old school laptop, moreover, sometimes the airport would be so full that you would struggle to find a seat.
At my previous job in an American bank, I had enjoyed corporate privileges including business class travel, I had seen the advantages of efficient travel services, spanning from limousine services to business centre facilities in the airport lounges.
I saw an opportunity in the market, as like myself, 85 percent of travellers fly economy class, in other words they don't enjoy such comfort and convenience, that's when I started brainstorming and observing passenger behaviour, and consequently, launched Plaza Premium Lounge, an airport lounge opened to all travellers regardless of airlines or class of travel. I didn't settle at that, I researched extensively and observed what travellers would want in a lounge facility, and introduced services to exceed the expectations of travellers. At the time, we were first to break with tradition and serve hot food at the lounge, today it's a norm, if you try to only serve chips, peanuts and sandwiches, no one will come to your lounge. We continue to observe and launch new innovative concept at our network of lounges, travellers are smart and the demand and requirement changes very quickly, it's our job to not only meet but exceed the expectations of travellers.
HKB: What three goals are you focused on right now?
We are actively opening many lounges globally, next year we will increase our network to London Heathrow, Sydney Kingsford, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi among other projects. We are very happy that travellers and airports are recognising the value that we bring to the airport, and we will focus on working with the airports to create premium airport service products, namely airport lounges, day hotels and meet and greet services, to enhance the airport experience for all travellers.
As a Hong Kong business, my vision is to be the household name for premium airport services worldwide, we have an extensive network and it is my hope that when someone from Hong Kong travels abroad, they know that when they stay at Plaza Premium Lounge, they are well taken care of and at ease when they travel. Also, like I do when I travel internationally, I see Hong Kong brands abroad and feel proud of it – I recently saw MTR corporation in Stockholm on the bus – I would like for travellers to know that we are a Hong Kong brand, as this is a good reflection of the entrepreneurship opportunities and environment that Hong Kong presents.
HKB: You have recently won in Heathrow Airport’s new T2 lounge project. What was your motivation in order to snag the project?
The upcoming opening of London Heathrow is a project we are really looking forward to, it's an honour to be a part of this development, in fact it's called the Queen's Terminal, and I know that if the Queen's name is used, it's going to be a tip top terminal, we're very excited to be a part of this growth in the UK and we know we're in good company. This is our first entry into Europe and it's great to see that airports are seeing eye to eye with us and seeing the benefits we bring to the airport.
We want to bring something new to the picture. In fact, in addition to the pay-in lounge which is in the departure terminal, we will also reveal the first arrival lounge in Terminal 2.
I have my team to thank for our development, it's with their hard work and dedication, we have built a very strong management system. This management system allows for us to take on projects globally comfortably, we're also very detail oriented and versatile, we make enhancements and changes all the time for our guests, it's important to be dynamic in this business.
HKB: With all your recent accomplishments, are you planning any changes in the way you manage the group?
I always refer to the people in my team as the 'Plaza family', it's not always easy to find people who share your vision and passion for the job. This is not a tried and tested industry, every day we break new ground and it takes dedication and hard work. As we expand as not only develop the Plaza Premium Lounge brand but also our management leg of the business [Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited], it is important for everyone, new or old, to share my vision and to understand the company culture. We promote bottom up management, we hear what our colleagues have to say – feedback and recommendation, we very much operate as one big family, so it is important to not only continue communication but strengthen communication as we grow globally.
HKB: What are your key business philosophies?
I always tell my children that nothing comes without hard work, if it comes easy then it may not last for long. Our business is all about people, so humanising the business is important. Listening is a good habit, and as is interacting, it's very difficult to be in the service industry if you're out there to simply earn money and execute, you have to love people. Ultimately, my work is in travel, my goal is to provide comfort, convenience and value to all travellers.
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