An Exclusive Interview with Ali Bora İşbulan, Deputy CEO of Plaza Premium Group
Şebnem Akalın: Thank you for taking your time for this interview. We are aware that Plaza Premium Lounge operates under the umbrella of Plaza Premium Group (PPG), offering a range of services across various segments within the airport environment. While we are familiar with your company's lounge services in Türkiye, can you please elaborate on your other services?
Ali Bora İşbulan: Plaza Premium Group, headquartered in Hong Kong, is a leading player serving in the aviation industry. Our primary focus is to enhance the airport experience for passengers, making their time enjoyable, stress-free, and exceptional. In line with this perspective, our primary business area revolves around lounge management, which holds paramount importance in our service offerings. Furthermore, our scope extends to encompass a diverse range of business lines designed to address various requirements. These include airport hotels, a variety of food and beverage concepts, specialized passenger meet-and-greet services, fast track services, and an extensive travel loyalty program. Presently, the Plaza Premium experience spans across more than 300 service points at over 90 airports across 35 countries globally. Additionally, we extend our offerings to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport, where we provide lounges, fast-track services, and special passenger meet-and-greet services.
Şebnem Akalın: Having received numerous awards since its inception as an independent lounge in various airports almost 25 years ago, Plaza Premium Lounge currently extends its services to about 35 countries. What innovative approaches did PPG implement to achieve its rapid growth, what level of comfort does it offer to its guests, and how has it received numerous awards and recognition?
Ali Bora İşbulan: The pivotal aspect lies in the ability to analyze passenger behavior and comprehend their expectations. Achieving this on a micro level, that is, delving into specifics like children, adults, travel purposes—be it business or leisure—different nationality perceptions, and the subsequent influence on needs and behavior, and thereafter tailoring your service around this data, is bound to yield successful outcomes. At Plaza Premium, our guests are our top priority. We firmly believe that this approach has a direct impact on the satisfaction of our guests. As a result, we have been honored with the prestigious SKYTRAX awards for the 7th consecutive time. This accomplishment fills us with immense honor and pride, serving as a significant source of motivation for our team.
Şebnem Akalın: During my recent travel from Sabiha Gökçen Airport, your team provided me with information about your fast-track and lounge services. Can you please share more about these offerings? What specific services do you provide to passengers at Sabiha Gökçen Airport to enhance their travel experience and comfort? Additionally, are there any plans to introduce new services?
Ali Bora İşbulan: Today, we welcome our guests at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport with 1 lounge for domestic flights and 2 lounges for international flights, along with fast-track services and special passenger meet and greet services.
Our lounges offer a wide range of special services, including unlimited food and beverage offerings, free Wi-Fi access, a prayer room, a dedicated children's playroom with special organic food treats, and outdoor terraces. Moreover, during the summer months, we enhance our guests' experience by hosting live music concerts every Friday at specific hours in our domestic lounge, aiming to create delightful memories.
Fast-track services can be considered one of our “star” offerings at the airport. It's a must-have for travelers looking to bypass the often-time-consuming queues, especially during the peak summer months when traffic is high. For those seeking a swift passage through the terminal gate, passport control, or the 2nd security check for domestic flights, our Allways Fast-Track service is the preferred choice. This allows our guests to seamlessly complete their procedures without any stress and enjoy their time as they prefer.
Through our Allways meet and greet services, we mostly cater to our international guests, extending to them the warmth of Turkish hospitality. In this regard, our service plays a pivotal role in shaping the first and last impressions of our foreign visitors. Upon arrival, our guests are received by our hostess and porter at the aircraft gate, swiftly and comfortably navigating all airport procedures in their company. Similarly, during departure, our service ensures seamless assistance from the terminal gate to the aircraft gate.
Our lounge and fast-track services are available for purchase at our service points. Alternatively, for guests seeking a seamless experience without repeated payments, we offer the ST Pass service package, which includes a digital experience and provides 5 or 10 uses per year.
Şebnem Akalın: How many passengers have you hosted at Sabiha Gökçen Airport since you commenced your guest hosting services, and has this figure aligned with your initial targets?
Ali Bora İşbulan: As you are aware, we have collectively endured the prolonged effects of the pandemic. The travel industry, in particular, bore the brunt of this situation. Fortunately, this year, with the arrival of the summer months, we have witnessed a global mitigation of this impact. During this summer, we observed a significant upturn in our services, with over 80,000 guests served monthly at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport, a development that brings us great satisfaction. We are confident that this growth trend will continue.
Şebnem Akalın: In addition to Sabiha Gökçen Airport, are there any upcoming plans for other airports in Türkiye? Can we expect to see Plaza Premium Lounges at additional airports?
Ali Bora İşbulan: Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport holds a significant place within our network of operations. Recognizing Istanbul's pivotal role as a global aviation hub, we anticipate further growth and advancement for the city. Hence, even amid challenging times like the pandemic, we confidently invested in Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Certainly, we continue to monitor the Turkish market closely. We are eager to capitalize on any potential opportunities that arise. This could entail expanding our portfolio of services at our current airport or incorporating a new airport into our network. We are thoroughly assessing all prospects.
Şebnem Akalın: Plaza Premium Group has also achieved rapid growth within the Middle East, a region frequently visited either directly or through transit from Türkiye. Can you elaborate on the strategies and future plans your company has for this specific region?
Ali Bora İşbulan: As Plaza Premium Group, our growth strategy is meticulously devised, considering factors such as passenger traffic flow, growth trends, industry developments, and the contribution to the overall travel experience within our network. Based on these criteria, the Middle East and Africa region emerged as a significant focus for us. Around 4-5 years ago, we proactively established a Regional Office in Dubai, recognizing the potential of this geography. Presently, we provide our services in various cities including Amman, Addis Ababa, Dubai, Muscat, Dammam, Jeddah, and Riyadh. I am pleased to share that we have exciting news on the horizon, with new cities set to join this list in the near future.
Şebnem Akalın: Plaza Premium Lounge has its own app known as "Smart Traveler." Can you provide details about this application and explain the benefits passengers can enjoy through its usage?
Ali Bora İşbulan: Smart Traveler is the loyalty program of the Group that operates on an earn-and-spend points system. Currently, the application boasts over 1 million active users. In addition to accessing Plaza Premium services through the program, users can also benefit from our partners’ offerings, particularly those related with travel or lifestyle. Through shopping at our partners, users earn points, which can subsequently be redeemed for marketplace purchases without any fees.
Additionally, I'd like to highlight the Smart Traveler’s points conversion feature. Through collaborations with banks and various loyalty programs, we provide the option to convert their points into ST points, thereby enhancing the benefits for end users. The recently established partnership with HSBC serves as an example of this initiative.
Through ST, we not only cultivate content and loyal customers, but we also gain the ability to collect valuable data that allows us to analyze customer behavioral trends. The insights derived from this data play a key role in shaping our strategic roadmap.
Şebnem Akalın: In conclusion, is there any message or insight you would like to convey to the readers of Aviation Turkey?
Ali Bora İşbulan: The growth trend in aviation industry will continue rapidly. With this trend, we anticipate the emergence of diverse requirements and expectations in travel experiences. Under the concept of comfortable travel, novel values will surface, with "convenience" holding key significance. The prevalence of digitalization will become increasingly evident at every stage.
Considering all these factors, we established a technology company within the Plaza Premium Group. We consolidated our digital products, which include Travel Ecosystem (TECO), Lounge Management System (LMS), and our loyalty program Smart Traveler (ST), under this new entity.
I'd like to provide a brief overview of TECO and LMS, which we view as a significant advancement in the industry.
TECO serves as a technological framework that seamlessly connects all airport stakeholders. With just a few clicks, passengers can perform a range of tasks, such as managing parking, requesting valet services upon plane arrival, pre-purchasing fast-track services, and even placing restaurant orders in advance. Apart from enhancing the passenger experience, this platform will contribute to airports' non-aviation revenue growth and optimize operations, resulting in reduced operational costs through efficient processes.
LMS is a technological infrastructure employed at lounge entrances. It can be effortlessly integrated with our contracted institutions, enabling system communication based on predefined usage conditions and facilitating swift controls during entry procedures. This enables a uniform entrance experience for guests covered by various agreements. Additionally, the system-generated reports facilitate the analysis of travel behavior based on diverse criteria. With the upcoming implementation of the Self Check-in/e-Gate feature, guests will have the ability to directly perform their transactions on their own.
Finally, it's important to highlight that in addition to these innovative initiatives, we also closely monitor and support start-ups that develop solutions for airport passenger services. Ultimately, we're all collaborating towards a shared objective—to shape the future travel experience. That's why we consider every idea and effort extremely valuable