Covid-19 has undoubtedly impacted the airline industry due to the collapse of international travel. What about travellers' first point of contact before flying: the airport lounges?
While numerous airport lounges worldwide are still temporarily closed, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as indicated in recent surveys conducted by Plaza Premium and Collinson Group, respectively.
As the world adapts to life in the wake of the pandemic, business and leisure aviation remains at a halt. Still, preparation is key, and as domestic markets continue to gain confidence in flying, lounges are ready to welcome the new normal with comfort and social distancing protocols between flights.
“In APAC as a whole, we are gradually seeing lounge visit volume increase, with APAC growing 5% to 8% week-on-week in the past few weeks. Much of this comes down to domestic travel in markets where that is possible—and it bodes well for rising traveller confidence, which will mean more lounge visitors in the future”, Todd Handcock, Asia Pacific president at Collinson, told Travel Weekly Asia.
“The strong domestic lounge use reflects the findings of Collinson’s recent traveller survey, where 52% of the 22,000 APAC respondents would use their lounge access more, and 68% are willing to pay for airport lounge access where guest numbers are controlled and social distancing maintained."
End to end airport services, including meet and greet ambassadors for travellers such as families.
This same focus on safety and hygiene was highlighted in Plaza Premium Group's recent 'What the New Norm in Airport Hospitality is’ study.
According to the study, travellers are looking to protect themselves by wearing masks (83%) and see hand-sanitiser and alcohol wipes as essential for travelling (75%). People are eager to fly as soon as bans and restrictions are lifted (59%), and more than half of respondents (55%) said they would make use of private spaces and facilities — like lounges — in order to maintain social distance while in transit.
To align with ongoing travel changes, Plaza Premium Group has reinforced its hygiene protocols and introduced digital initiatives covering a spectrum of contactless transactions — think QR-code food ordering, e-books and magazines, and vending machines for travel essentials.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Airport is working closely with international bodies such as ICAO, IATA and other major hub airports, to standardise health and safety protocols, and is also introducing technology to streamline the travel experience.
“[We are] utilising facial recognition technologies for the boarding process for a seamless and, more importantly, touchless departure process that could enhance passengers’ confidence in air travel," a spokesperson of the Airport Authority Hong Kong told Travel Weekly Asia.
The new norm in business travel
The needs of business travellers have drastically changed in 2020, according to Collinson's Handcock. "A renewed prioritisation of health and safety is expediting changes in airline and airport regulations, fuelling contactless journeys and inspiring lasting digital innovations," he said.
And airport lounges are stepping up their game.
“The airport community is also requiring additional space for meetings and we are supporting them with this,” said Janis Tse, global marketing director of Plaza Premium Group. “As for consumers that are travelling, private spaces are also in demand and are regularly requested most days."
Plaza Premium Group is collaborating with local and international brands to promote essential travel. Recently partnering with YQ NOW, a leading meet and assist specialist, the group is looking to increase its popularity among business travellers.
“We believe that this will grow, as these services take personalisation, privacy and efficiency to the next level, with services including immigration fast track, porter service, private escort to lounge for travellers to minimise their duration at the airport and avoid contact with surfaces, limo services, and visa on arrival,” said Tse.
Privacy is key at airport lounges. Space has been reconfigured to encourage social distancing and deliver privacy, while services and facilities are adapted to reduce human interaction — such as "restricted or removed spa services and replacing the buffet with individually-portioned health-conscious meals”. Flexibility is also encouraged with easy access on cancellations, refunds and modifications on bookings.
Aerotel Singapor's Family Room.
Aerotel is a space for business and leisure travellers to rest and relax in their own private space. “Compared to the rest of the world, travel has picked up more in Asia, especially in China with the resumption of domestic and regional travel. We’ve seen a 90% increase in bookings at our Aerotel in Beijing since October”, added Tse. “In India, we set up a Covid-19 testing facility and lounge at IGI Airport T3 in collaboration with Genestrings Diagnostic Centre”.
Similar protocols apply at Collinson’s Priority Pass lounges. “Earlier this year Collinson’s Priority Pass launched a set of global health and safety standards for airport lounges”, said Handcock. “The standards comprise a number of steps including provision of PPE to staff, new furniture layouts to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and new contact-free solutions.
"Think pre-booked security time slots to avoid the queue, new AI tools that speed along the check-in process, and digital solutions that let travellers order food, book a lounge space and shop for duty-free products all from the convenience of their smartphone”.