Plaza Premium Group founder Song Hoi-See and family on their savvy airport lounge business

They talk about the dynamics of the family business and the challenges faced by the travel industry during the pandemic.

The founder of Plaza Premium Group, transformed the airport hospitality industry by establishing the Plaza Premium Lounge in the Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong International Airports in 1998 (Photo: EY World Entrepreneur of the Year )

For a while, it seemed like dust must have covered tarmacs and the aircraft hidden in hangars after travel plans screeched to a halt globally. But, as the world adapts to life in a pandemic, certain necessities — and even luxuries — are slowly resuming. And flying is one of them.

Ready to welcome a return to the skies is the Song family behind Plaza Premium Group, which has been using the lull to prepare for the new normal. Being poised to act is a hallmark of the brand; in the 1980s, Song Hoi-See was a globetrotting investment banker for Lehman Brothers when he observed a distinct lack of hospitality initiatives at international airports. While the most affluent travellers luxuriated in the comfort of airline lounges between flights, others struggled to be comfortable or productive during transit at what Hoi-See describes as “little more than glorified bus-stops”.

Never one to ignore a promising idea, he left the security of finance for the unknown waters of entrepreneurship to launch the world’s first independent airport lounge in 1998. Plaza Premium Lounge at Hong Kong’s brand-new international airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport were officiated almost simultaneously. Services ranged from meet-and-greet receptions to dining, relaxation, connectivity and shower facilities. For a fee or loyalty points earned through partner programmes, the egalitarian model offers access to passengers of any airline or flight class, changing the perception of airport lounges from that of exclusive privilege to attainable luxury.

It was strategic collaborations that enabled Plaza Premium Group to widen its customer base and expand geographically, starting with a deal made with Citi. “Partnering with a credit card whose target audience was business travellers had natural synergy,” says Hoi-See. “The bank wanted to attract more card members by providing innovative benefits, and we brought just that. Building loyalty is about understanding customers’ evolving pain points and expectations, and addressing them.”

Today, Plaza Premium Group is the world’s largest independent lounge network. It has its own hospitality brands in the form of the elite Plaza Premium First and flagship Plaza Premium Lounge at over 170 locations in 46 international airports as far away as Vancouver and Helsinki. Its portfolio includes managing co-branded lounges for airlines and corporations such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Lufthansa and American Express; airport terminal hotels Aerotel and Refreshhh by Aerotel; meet-and-greet service ALLWAYS; and an array of airport dining concepts.

This curation of products and services has led to its winning more than 50 accolades and awards in just the last five years, including Skytrax World Airline Awards’ World’s Best Independent Airport Lounge for four consecutive years from 2016. Hoi-See was recognised on a global stage as the Malaysian representative at the 2019 EY World Entrepreneur of the Year awards in Monte Carlo, which was where we met his family for the first time.



For the full story, pick up a copy of The Edge Malaysia (Nov 16, 2020) at your nearest news stand. Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.

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