Perfecting the lounge experience – Design Middle East
Kinney Chan, owner of Kinney Chan and Associates and Mei Mei Song, brand director, Plaza Premium Group, talk about the new Plaza Premium Lounge at Dubai International Airport
By Roma Arora
Kinney Chan shares his wonderful design insights and how this much-anticipated lounge
Spanning 1,260sqm, Plaza Premium Lounge Dubai opened recently last month and is located on Level 4, Concourse A in Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport. It looks every bit posh and luxurious with all the comfort a traveller can ask for! Designer Kinney Chan has worked his magic on this project and it was very important for him and his team to understand the brand and the needs of customers from different cultures, and then to use design as a means to connect with travellers, create a sense of place, and add a seamlessness to the travel experience. Chan explains: “First we look at the brand’s DNA – ranging from facilities to interiors to the art selected – to achieve a sense
of environment and a signature ambience. At the same time, all the spaces are different so we look at a sense of the destination and location to make it unique for guests to know where they are. We need to understand the different culture to let our customers enjoy the experience of staying in the lounge.”
An airport is a place where every customer has different wants and needs. So, studying customer needs is very important. “They are all different, some are just transiting or in a rush, and some may be staying at the airport for a number of hours. Some are for business and some are for fun and combining all these, we strike a right balance for specific locations. Next is to look at the space and understand the flow of the passengers. There is no single formula and everything is an important factor to consider in the design process,” says Chan.
Chan has used soothing and earthy tones throughout the lounge. He comments: “A combination of earthy colours and wood is used to create relaxing ambience as part of Plaza Premium Lounge’s signature experience. An airport lounge is a space where hundreds of passengers passing through every day and durability are part of the practical consideration, thus we also need to look at the materials for the tailor-made furniture. “ For Chan, every design should be appealing and must offer comfort in the best way possible. He further adds: “Our focus is to create an oasis in a busy airport, space where guests can feel relaxed and comfortable. It’s not about creating a resort feel but a place people can be calm and relaxed before they travel. And let them start their journey earlier for the vacation or release their pressure before the working trip.” The lounge offers comfortable seating and a delectable array of Arabic, Asian, and international cuisines. The lounge is also equipped with free Wi-Fi, dedicated smoking rooms, shower rooms with quality amenities and four private family suites. The family suites come with butler service and can accommodate a maximum of six guests (adults and children inclusive)—ideal for families and business travellers who prefer their own space and privacy.
Chan tells: “Dubai is a city with ocean and desert and that became our concept to illustrate ocean and sand movement in the wind with AeroBar’s feature walls, around corners and the Dubai skyline painting at the reception. The lounge is situated on the upper level and we made it resembling a balcony sweeping with natural lights from the airport’s high ceilings for guests to unwind while appreciating the apron views and watching the movement of travellers on the walkways underneath.”
There’s also have a specially designed kids’ play area with sustainable wooden toys for the little travellers. Every project comes with its own set of challenges and for Chan creating different zones inside the lounge was clearly one. Chan shares: “Because zoning is a key attribute as Plaza Premium Lounge’s signature DNA, we always have to work with the shape and orientation of the space – how big is it and where it is located – to make sensible planning. This is considered a sizeable lounge with 1,260sqm in space so I say we are glad to create another unique Plaza Premium Lounge to the brand’s Middle East portfolio.” Chan is impressed with Dubai’s booming design industry and the kind of projects coming up. “Dubai is an international city and there are a lot of projects happening in the last decade. All the world-class architects and designers involved in the development of the city. We are very lucky to be one of the creators in the area,” signs off Chan.
Mei Mei Song shares her views on the ‘glocal’ theme of the new Premium Plaza Lounge in Dubai, sustainability, and technology
There are some significant changes in the way airports look and how customers use it. Airports were previously utilitarian affairs, designed to move people as efficiently as possible. However, airport authorities are increasingly turning to design to make that movement as comfortable and enjoyable for travellers as possible. For the brand, Plaza Premium Group, they are following the theme of glocal across all the lounges, which is the essence of their success. Mei Mei elaborates: “Each Plaza Premium Lounge venue across the globe is different as a “glocal”- the theme is a very important approach we take to building our lounges – delivering global brand consistencies while embracing the local culture. A part of the fun in product development is creating a customer experience for travellers coming through a specific airport. In this airport, we retain popular zones such as the signature honeycomb workstations, live cooking station, and the social spot AeroBar.
However, we localise it to include local and regional cuisines, and when we build the bar, we also explore local spirits and trends, to ensure we give it a point of difference.” The lounge comes with ‘first-class cabin seats’ feature, it provides privacy within the lounge where guests can sit inside and have a private moment during their visit. Also, the visitors will see subtle different design features throughout designed to give ‘a sense of place’ incorporating local elements. The reception backdrop captures the Dubai skyline while AeroBar’s feature walls is inspired by the movement of sands in the wind. The whole environment of the lounge is created with soothing lighting, a combination of earthy colour tone, and a 24-hour music track that reflects the mood of day and night. Sustainability is at the core for the brand and part of their business strategies.
Mei Mei discusses: “We have started by installing water taps in our lounges to encourage travellers filling their own water bottles. We design locally where possible, using local materials to give a sense of place but also to decrease our carbon footprint. We’re also committed to sourcing ingredients locally where possible, it is also a way to support the local community. The children’s playroom is filled with wooden toys, it’s a sustainable material and much more of an environmentally friendly option than plastic toys —they are also biodegradable and can be recycled.” Mei Mei and her team is constantly exploring new services and facilities. With the number of family travel and the size of families in the Emirates, they have introduced a playroom in the lounge and made sure it is not your average playroom, as the lounge has introduced STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics)- based toys and worked with brand Masterkidz to fit-out with sustainable toys. “This is a part of our family-friendly programme that features services and facilities, to build airport moments with the family with us.” Mei Mei says.
Technology definitely enhances efficiency when it comes to process. The brand is currently launching their reward programme Smart Traveller with a MobileApp and the goal is to streamline the process for the guests to enjoy the facilities around the world while being rewarded. “The key to constant improvement is listening and technology helps us listen in more ways than one. Making operations more efficient is key, we’re all time-starved these days. In Hong Kong, we piloted a QR code system for in-lounge guests to order dishes from our made-to-order menu,” tells Mei Mei. She further stresses that while planning and executing this project, they also considered the expectations and desires of millennials.
Mei Mei emphasises: “ I think another key point is how this new generation enjoys the lounge, we find in our Dubai lounge which boasts one of the best apron views, not only are the guests enjoying the view but so are their phones. Young families like to ‘document’ their kid’s lives with images and videos, in our playroom we created a colourful wall with features like palm trees, camels, and local signature architecture. And even the food, presentation is key; a lot of time the camera eats first.”
So what defines a good lounge? Mei Mei answers with a smile: “When your guests remember their visit with you and recommend it to their friend, you know you have a good lounge. Our job is to reduce stress in the airport, and with a lounge, we make sure through services, food & beverage, facilities and ambience, we deliver just that. We must ensure our space is versatile to suit the different needs of travellers – be it business, leisure or family travellers, we design according to who our guests are and map out their journey, regardless of which hat they are wearing. The devil is in the details. t’s also telling when guests look forward to your signature dish and make time for their lounge visit.”
Mei Mei shares brand’s exciting plans in 2020. “Following Dubai lounge, we just had two lounges open at Hong Kong International Airport and each location is themed differently. Next, we will see Plaza Premium Lounge launching in Sydney and our first-ever lounge in USA opening at DFW Airport in addition to two “mega” lounges opening in Jakarta, Indonesia and Toronto in Canada, and more,” signs off Mei Mei.