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Plaza Premium Group on putting the pleasure back into travel

Air passengers take advantage of Plaza Premium's meet and greet service, ALLWAYS.

A Plaza Premium airport lounge was recently voted best in the world. Asia Family Traveller sat down with global business development director, Jonathan Song, to find out how the airport services group survived the pandemic and how it's injecting some much needed glamour back into air travel with a raft of new lounges and services.

What is Plaza Premium Group?

Our mission, in a nutshell, is to make travel better. We offer airport hospitality services in more than 250 locations and 70-odd international airports. These services include airport lounges Plaza Premium First and Plaza Premium Lounge, airport in-terminal hotels, meet and greet services and a range of airport dining concepts.

We've also launched a global loyalty and membership programme, ‘Smart Traveller’, enabling airport users to earn points to redeem for perks, benefits and rewards.

What can families expect from a Plaza Premium Lounge?

Our lounges are equipped with comfortable seating, restaurants, bars, shower rooms, charging stations, complimentary Wifi and computer workstations. And in many we have dedicated space for children. These areas are filled with children’s books, wooden toys and activity packs. We also offer child-friendly amenities such as highchairs and children’s cutlery. Our Plaza Premium Lounge in Dubai has four, ten-metre square Family Suites serviced by a team of multilingual butlers.

In China, we’ve also opened up to the domestic travel market with lounges at high-speed railway stations in Changsha, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. At Changsha South High-speed Railway Lounge there’s a nursing room and a playroom kitted out with educational and sustainably made Masterkidz toys.

How has the pandemic affected the Plaza Premium service?

In 2020, the pandemic escalated quickly and the speed at which it accelerated around the world was the greatest challenge, not just for us, but for the aviation and travel industry as a whole. Crisis management followed and we’ve been focusing on long-term, sustainable growth ever since.

We’ve prioritised health and safety and digitising our services has allowed us to navigate to a ‘new normal’. Our goal was to minimise human contact through technology, such as contactless payments, self-service vending machines, digital reading materials and an app-based loyalty programme. Smart Order, a contactless food ordering system via mobile phones, means meals can be pre-portioned and packed.

We’ve also introduced temperature-check stations, social distancing, hand sanitising stations and heightened cleaning procedures. By reconfiguring our zoning, we’ve managed to better promote private space.

Plaza Premium Lounges in London and Rome have received five-star Covid-19 Airline Lounge Safety Ratings by air transport rating agency, Skytrax.

Given the number of countries we work in and local restrictions and regulations, we’ve also kept agile with flexible booking options, refunds and cancellations where necessary.

Relaxing in a Plaza Premium Family Suite in Dubai.

Have all lounges reopened?

We have lounges spanning five continents, from Europe to Asia and Africa and North and South America and our teams have worked hard to find solutions during this challenging time. It’s been tough, but we are seeing recovery in areas such as the US, Canada and China, with 60 to 70% of operations resumed.

As well as re-openings, we’ve also celebrated a number of new openings over the last 12 months. We launched Plaza Premium Lounges and ALLWAYS meet and greet services in Istanbul and Rome and flagship Plaza Premium Lounges have opened in Sydney and Dallas Fort Worth.

You say Plaza Premium alleviates the ‘pain points of travel’, what do you mean by this?

‘Pain points of travel’ are the challenges and inconveniences travellers encounter as part of their airport journey. For example, we noticed travellers staying overnight in airports for transit but with nowhere to go for a good night’s sleep. This is how Aerotel, our in-airport hotel brand, was born. It offers rooms on an hourly basis. We also have showers in our lounges so travellers can freshen up and, as previously mentioned, spaces where children can be entertained.

Last year we carried out a survey to understand what travellers want and need in this new normal. The findings supported the roll-out of initiatives such as Smart Traveller, Smart Order, our 'Lounge To Go' takeaway service and the We Care for your Wellbeing programme to ensure hygiene and safety in all lounges.

Tell us about the Smart Traveller global rewards programme.

Smart Traveller is an app- and web-based platform. Smart Traveller members benefit from continually refreshed rewards, exclusive offers, and service packages such as lounge access bundles and upgrade options.

It’s the first global loyalty and membership programme built for air travellers and airport users and combines Plaza Premium Group services and our affiliate network offerings via a point reward system. Members can purchase from more than 1,000 curated travel and lifestyle products from the Smart Traveller marketplace, as well as activate, store and redeem rewards.

So what clinched it for your world-beating lounge, Plaza Premium at Heathrow’s T2 Departures?

This particular lounge has won the Skytrax World’s Best Independent Airline Lounge for five consecutive years. It’s functional and meets the needs of travellers with private resting suites, shower rooms and a generous selection of freshly prepared food; plus it boasts sleek interiors for a luxury feel. Skytrax award winners are voted for by customers all over the world and we’re proud to have won again. At the same time, two of our lounges in Hong Kong were placed in the top ten.

You have huge expansion plans. Can you reveal where new lounges are likely to be opening?

We’re on track to expand from 180 to 500 lounges by 2025. This is both through growing Plaza Premium Lounges venues as well as through affiliate lounge networks. In the last three months, Plaza Premium Group has opened its first lounges in South Africa, launched an integrated end-to-end airport experience in Bangalore, opened a second location in South America, opened a new lounge at Brazil’s Sao Paulo airport and has announced plans for its first location in Japan later this year.

Plaza Premium Group has launched a virtual talks series, Come Fly with Us. The first episode shares insider tips on getting the best out of your airport experience and is available now on the group's YouTube channel.

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