Options: Congratulations on opening the new Plaza Premium First at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Tell us about its distinctively Malaysian concept and artistic touches to the space.
Song Hoi-see: KLIA houses two lounges under one roof, actually — Plaza Premium First and Plaza Premium Lounge. The former offers a fascinating fusion of tradition and modernity, reflective of Asia’s many different cultures, heritage and styles. Visitors can expect local elements woven in, from the wooden décor at the entrance to batik-inspired décor on the metal partition to the use of batik fabric for the seats in both lounges. There are also well-designed private rooms which may be transformed into VIP areas or dedicated lounges should a bank, financial institution or airline wish to take it up. We have also partnered with The Art People Gallery to create an artistic airport lounge which takes guests on a journey through the country. Be sure to notice the artworks by up-and-coming local artists that pay tribute to the Malaysian spirit. We want this lounge positioned as an art hub within the airport.
The year 2023 also marks a major milestone for Plaza Premium Group. What have been some of your best work memories over the past 25 years?
There have been so many since we started the company in 1998, opening our first two lounges in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. After years of hard work and dedication, we began to get recognition for our influence in the aviation hospitality industry. In 2016, we won our first Skytrax award … and we have continued to do so for six years in a row already. Now, onto the seventh!
We have also kept on growing our ecosystem, expanding into new verticals. We opened Aerotel, the world’s first airport transit hotel, in Singapore in 2016 and introduced our first ‘airport dining’ brand, The Green Market, in 2008. We also entered the US in 2019 with the Allways Meet & Greet service, while in Bangalore, India, we launched Airport Passenger Services, a new offering under the Allways brand, two years later. All these milestones mean a lot to me.
What about your personal accomplishments?
For me, it was such a privilege to be recognised as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year and Master Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 in Malaysia, my birthplace and the land of my roots.
For someone who heads a travel-related brand, what’s your personal travelling style like?
I always wear something easy and cosy. It is extremely important to dress comfortably, especially for long-haul flights. You would want to wear something light and in breathable fabric. To ensure in-flight comfort, I always settle my ‘station’ beforehand and I do enjoy a good meal, a cup of hot tea and a movie before getting some rest — I consider this to be my ‘me time’ and a chance to unwind as well.
What do you always pack though?
I travel very light, as a rule, but I consider skincare products to be my travel essentials. I always find it easier to stay organised when you carry very little with you. Sometimes, last-minute changes of plans might occur, so you don’t want to be weighed down with unnecessary baggage.
What are you reading right now?
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 2005 to 2020. It’s a really inspiring read, which I only recently came across. In it, Iger shares how he worked his way up from being a weatherman to the position of Disney CEO as well as the impact he has made and how he led the company, even during difficult times. This book touched me as it is not only about business strategies but also his personal journey and the relationships he has forged along the way. The key lesson I took away from it is how it is extremely important to stay authentic and humble, and to be open to receiving constructive advice even though you’ve reached the top position.
What are you listening to right now?
The Founders podcast, where the host David Senra digs deep into the best ideas and lessons from history’s greatest entrepreneurs and leaders. Serna digests a biography every week and then shares his learnings with his audience. I like it as you can learn about many different things — mindset, business ventures, ways of life, personal drive and management styles — from the world’s most influential thought leaders, such as Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk. These stories inspire both on a personal and professional level.
For someone whose schedule is relentless, what’s your idea of a perfect weekend?
I love to exercise! Staying active allows me to clear my mind and reduce my stress levels so I can live a healthier and more balanced life. I also love spending quality time with my family. Although Plaza Premium Group is a family-run business, we all have different work schedules and priorities. So, the weekends are reserved for family bonding, exploring new things and trying out new experiences together.
This article first appeared on Apr 3, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.