Plaza Premium Group is targeting more than 40 new openings in China by 2024, looking to partnerships to navigate the cultural and regulatory challenges that come with penetrating the Chinese market.
Currently, the group manages two airport lounges in Beijing and six in Shanghai, in addition to the Aerotel airport hotel in Guangzhou.
Business development director – China and regional general manager, Jenny Zhang, said: “China is a big market but it is not an easy one to enter. Even if you (have a foot in), it requires a lot of effort to maintain quality so collaboration with local partners like airlines and airports is a must.
“In next five years, we hope to spread our footprint to the top 10 airports in China.”
Projects in China typically take longer to materialise by about one to two years, due to entrenched culture and established systems, not to mention factors like regulations and politics, according to Zhang.
“As you know, airports are owned by government and therefore, we work mostly with large-scale, state-owned enterprises,” she said. This also means the group has to adopt a different, more flexible approach in China.
Acknowledging the difficulties for international players to enter the Chinese market, Zhang was quick to point out: “We are here to drive customer experience with premium services, not to replace existing operators. We hope to work together and blend in our ideas (and software). It is important to (introduce different products) to customers, which will make the pie bigger.”
With Shanghai a major hub, the group is in talks with Pudong International Airport for new opportunities such as VIP lounge management, given that some mainland airlines are seeking operators with international experience to uplift service quality, design and service flow.
It will also fly its Aerotel flag in the new Beijing Daxing International Airport, set to open in September 2019. Located at the Domestic Arrival Hall, the 929m2 Aerotel Beijing, scheduled to start welcoming visitors in October 2019, will feature a restaurant, private dining room, fitness area and two meeting rooms across two floors.
This is followed by an Aerotel in Qingdao, slated to open later this year. Plaza Premium has formed a joint venture company to manage a VIP lounge and an Aerotel in a relocated airport.
Elsewhere in China, Plaza Premium Group is also eyeing Wuhan and Chengdu in its expansion plans.
Zhang has high hopes for the new Aerotel concept in China. “In view of increasing demand for enhanced airport services and the distant location of big airports in China, Aerotel, which has rooms bookable by the hour, caters to passengers with early morning departures, late night arrivals and those in transit.”
This investment is part of the group’s global expansion, which includes a commitment to invest US$100 million into the China, India, Indonesia and US markets over the next two years.