This premium airport lounge is not class conscious

This premium airport lounge is not class conscious
Song Hoi See

As an investment banker, Song Hoi See always flew business class, which entitled him to the services of luxury airline lounges. He thought nothing of the food and drink and shower and business facilities on tap - until he struck out on his own in 1992 and was compelled to fly economy for the sake of his pocketbook.

It was then that the Johor-born Malaysian, now 56, began thinking about it seriously. He said: "It was frustrating for businessmen like me in economy. There was no place from where we could send faxes or to take a shower or to rest. I used to have to steal electricity to charge my computer."

His "eureka" moment was tied to a simple truth - that everyone, even economy class passengers, needed an oasis in airports and would be willing to pay for the privilege.

And so Plaza Premium Lounge Management (PPL) was born. The firm, incorporated in Hong Kong where Mr Song lives, is a pioneer in the concept of the airport-based, premium service lounge for airline passengers - regardless of airline or class of travel.

It clearly plugged an area of need: in its 15-year history, PPL has grown into a HK$1 billion (S$161 million) enterprise with a network of 110 lounges in 29 countries. It has offices from Mumbai to Melbourne and from London to Langkawi; it hires more than 2,000 people worldwide and serves more than four million passengers a year.

A clutch of imitators have appeared, but PPL remains the dominant player in retail aviation - it is the first choice in new airport terminals. Heathrow, for example, recently tapped him to run a lounge in its new terminal building.

The firm has grown exponentially in the last five years, aided by corporate cost cutting after the global financial crisis - resulting in fewer business class flights - and the advent of the Asian budget traveller.

Mr Song does not intend to slow down his expansion anytime soon. With more than 700 international airports around the world, he believes he has uncovered only the tip of the iceberg. He is planning for 50 more outlets by 2015.

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