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BW Businessworld

‘Our Lounges Are An Experience’

Photo Credit :

Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Song Hoi See, founder and CEO of Plaza Premium Lounge Management, in a chat with BW’s Chitra Narayanan

How did you start pay-and-use lounges?
When I was an investment banker for Lehman Brothers, I used to travel a lot by business class and use airport lounges. Then, I became an entrepreneur (he started a network of business centres in Hong Kong) and I thought, here’s a business opportunity: only 15 per cent of passengers travel business class; 85 per cent travel economy. Nobody is taking care of them. In 1998, I was invited to set up a business centre in Hong Kong airport and I proposed to make it a business lounge for economy passengers. 

When did you enter India?
It was in 2008 that we entered India, at the GMR-run Hyderabad airport. We also managed some airline lounges in Hyderabad. Then, we came to Delhi in 2009; first in Terminal 1, and then Terminal 3. Now, we are moving to Bangalore where we will have three properties — lounges in the departure terminals of domestic and international airlines and a ‘day’ hotel in the domestic departure terminal.

How have lounges evolved over the years?

 We are in the fifth generation of lounges today. What we are offering now is a lifestyle product. We are not just a restaurant, we are providers of experience, convenience, comfort and value.

When I began setting up lounges, the Internet was not what it is today. All that travellers wanted was a shower, a fax facility, some food and rest. We  created an oasis. Over the years, we kept upgrading after asking our customers what they would like while they waited. Today, they want wi-fi and spa services. They tell us, we want haircuts as well. So we are going to introduce haircuts in addition to salon services which offer pedicure and manicure. The fifth generation of lounges are green too. 

Today, we have 113 lounges in 29 international airports. We are not only operating our own lounges, we are also managing airline lounges. In India, we manage the Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines lounges in Terminal 3 as well as government VIP lounges. 

Do you find the operating environment in India challenging?

India is quite challenging in terms of licences —  liquor licences, security clearances, etc.  But I love challenges as only challenges will give you the opportunity to differentiate. If there are no challenges, everybody will come into the business. The second thing is timing. Currently, there is a big vacuum in the market in India. 
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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 27-01-2014)