With arriving early at airports a prerequisite of modern day travel, facilities that provide comfort and entertainment for passengers before they fly can play a key role in customer satisfaction levels, and lounges are no exception.
Indeed, airport lounges often provide travellers with their last taste of a destination, which is why facilities that reflect a sense of place for a particular city, region or country are important.
This is certainly the philosophy of the Plaza Premium Group, which operates the world’s largest independent airport lounge network and tries to make each of its locations different.
Founder and CEO, Song Hoi-see, says: “One can always take the easy way out by replicating an existing airport lounge in a cookie-cutter style, but is this really effective?
“Through years of careful observation, we see things differently as we want our travellers to have a sense of place and help them revisit the essence of a city before flying out. Hence, having cultural awareness is instrumental.
“The culture and people of every country in which we operate actually give us a lot of inspiration in our creation of each Plaza Premium Lounge.”
Having a high level of cultural awareness is one of the many successful factors in collaborating across borders and cultures.
And while it can be a daunting task due to the vast amount of differences between some cultures, Plaza Premium Lounge seeks to provide unique, customised facilities through the introduction of tangible and intangible elements to accommodate and appreciate diversity in their operations across 36 international airports.
Sense of place design
Creating a distinct ambiance for each and every facility is at the forefront of the company’s thinking from the conceptual design stage.
For instance, its lounges in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have a captivating ‘photo wall’, which feature a collection of vintage pictures of Cambodia that provide a touch of the country’s rich heritage.
While in its Taipei lounges, a sense of place is represented by a giant three-metre bas-relief sculpture of the skyline featuring the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper and the fretwork architecture of Taiwan island embedded in its front wall.
Elsewhere, at Singapore Changi, soaring windows evoke a feeling of being outdoors, capture the natural sunlight and allow visitors fantastic views of arriving and departing flights.
Rustic elements and modern design is the order of the day at Brisbane Airport, where a combination of Victorian ash wood and 3D wall tiles – inspired by the natural elements of water, sand and minerals – have helped create a warm and relaxing ambiance.
Its lounges in Abu Dhabi reflect the beauty of traditional Arabic design and Islamic culture while at London Heathrow a Union Jack flag forms the ceiling centrepiece of a lounge that showcases Britain’s cultural heritage.
Finally, in Latin America, the modern design of the lounge at Rio de Janeiro’s Tom Jobim International Airport was inspired by “the soul of Brazil” and the city of its location.
Food and beverages
It is important that the fare provided in the lounges also has a strong local flavour, which is why all Plaza Premium Lounge facilities offer national dishes influenced by their location.
In India, for example, visitors can enjoy an interactive live-cooking experience and Indian street food, which is an integral part of Indian culture.
Adding to the whole theatrical dining experience is India’s most loved beverage – chai. It is a warm and comforting drink during cold weather and an invigorating drink in hot season. Chai is not just a cup of tea in India, but a cultural norm.
Elsewhere, fish ball noodle soup is the signature dish at the company’s flagship airport lounges in Hong Kong where visitors can also sample a wide variety of local food offerings from freshly baked pastries, Hong Kong style dim sum and stir-fry to healthy dishes which aptly reflect the rich culinary culture of Hong Kong.
While in Malaysia the food offerings include perennial favourites such as nasi lemak; curry laksa; curry chicken; fish ball noodle soup; mee kolok; and Sarawak laksa.
Other distinctly local offerings provided at its lounges across the globe include Manitoban beers in Winnipeg; and a typical Qahawa coffee or Kahwa Arabic tea experience in Abu Dhabi.
Communication and customer service
Without doubt a friendly face and someone who speaks your language is vital to the hospitality experience, which is why visitors to the company’s lounges are welcomed by staff that speak the local language and a host of others.
In places such as Malaysia and Cambodia, travellers are respectfully welcomed by Plaza Premium Lounge staff with the local greeting gesture of bowing slightly and placing their right hand over their heart in Malaysia, and bowing their head slightly with hands pressed together at the chest in a prayer gesture, in Cambodia.
It is also vital for lounge staff to be sensitive and aware of how culture has an impact on communication and etiquette.
A smile and a friendly attitude can make the world of difference to a traveller. It can also help forge a closer understanding between two parties, especially in terms of attitudes and values.
In fact, so important is the appreciation of cultural awareness and diversity to Plaza Premium Lounge that it is in its DNA, and this has certainly played a key role in it being voted the World’s Best Independent Airport Lounge operator by Skytrax.
“We recognise the different needs of travellers and our aim is to ensure that each and every one of them, regardless of cultural background, has a seamless and comfortable airport experience, creating a sense of place for all,” says Hoi-see.