The traditional airport business lounge could once again become a haven of tranquillity for corporate travellers and adapting concepts could deliver a key offer at international hub airports

29 March, 2021

In a world where our safety and well-being have become our priority, the airport business lounge will become a key part of any regular travellers travel requirements. Ahead of the coronavirus pandemic the power of such locations had become somewhat diluted reducing their appeal to corporates.

Often lounges were becoming overcrowded and service offerings reduced. Some airlines were even removing lounge access from their cheaper business class ticket offerings. But that exclusive feel that made them a key ingredient of the business traveller itinerary must return to support the needs of corporates during the travel recovery

Travel habits and consumer needs will be different as we journey down this path. How long these will remain is not clear and depends how long COVID-19 remains a threat, even when well managed through vaccinations and public health care strategies. However, providing a safe environment for travellers will be a key part of any business offering.

The airport lounge will be more than just a safe, quiet location for travellers to pass time while in the departures area. Latest information from lounge and airport experience company Airport Dimensions suggest that adapting the concept will mean lounges will be strong performers as we emerge into a post-COVID era.

The company has revealed that occupancy levels at its new sleep 'n fly Sleep Lounges at Doha's Hamad International Airport and Dubai International Airport are exceeding expectations and even pre-COVID levels of occupancy. Combined, both Sleep Lounges have already provided for in excess of 100,000 guest hours of rest or social distancing to travellers at these two Gulf mega hubs, which continue to be important connection gateways.

Airport Dimensions 50-bed Sleep Lounge in Doha has grown occupancy every month in the six months since it opened in Sep-2020. Meanwhile, the 22-bed facility at Dubai's Terminal 3 Concourse C - which launched in late Nov-2020 - is also trading well, with occupancy levels said to be in line with pre-COVID expectations.

Both Sleep Lounges provide travellers with a private space away from the hustle and bustle of the public areas of the airport, giving passengers the opportunity to relax and socially distance while travelling. Single and couple or family pod and cabin options are available to suit all passenger needs. Robust health and safety measures are also in place for the protection of guests and staff. These include regular disinfection with specialised high-tech nanotechnology disinfectants proven to neutralise germs and viruses for extended periods of time.

"The uptake of our sleep 'n fly Sleep Lounges in Doha and Dubai is very strong, and our private spaces are in high demand in spite of the challenges the travel industry is still facing," explains Errol McGlothan, managing director (EMEA & APAC) at Airport Dimensions.

"This undoubtedly reflects a shift in traveller needs and patterns. Despite COVID, people still want to fly, but more passengers are now looking for a private, hygienic and comfortable space to relax at the airport due to longer dwell times and the desire to socially distance from fellow travellers," he adds.

Airport Dimensions is planning "further growth to this sector in the coming months" and other lounge providers will be monitoring changing consumer habits to provide solutions to provide private and safe environments for air travellers. But this is not just a concept at airports, but something that could become more common place in other locations.

In China, independent airport lounge operator Plaza Premium Lounge has extended its network to embrace China's major high-speed railway stations in collaboration with DragonPass, a global digital platform for premium travel services.

The first DragonPass x Plaza Premium Lounge was opened at Changsha South High-speed Railway Station in Jan-2021, which handles around 5.5 million passengers monthly and is China's key transit hub in connecting major cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Shanghai.

The 700 square metre lounge can accommodate 290 guests and is situated on the ground level of the railway station with two entrances, enabling travellers to access the facility from both sides of the station. It is open daily from 06:30 to 22:00, is complimentary for DragonPass members and open to all other passengers at a cost from RMB88 (USD13.45) for two hours.

Passenger traffic on high-speed railways in China has skyrocketed in recent years and even more so post-pandemic where high-speed railway is an alternative way of travel for many in China. The venture with Dragon Pass will see another two other co-created high-speed railway lounges launch in other top-tier travel hubs in the country, according to Plaza Premium Group.

As global passenger traffic - both rail and air - continued to grow ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more private lounges were being opened to meet consumer demand at transport hubs. The lounge USP had always been to assesses travellers' habits and their purposes of travel to ensure the offering was tailor-made to those needs. Those needs have changed, but the lounge promise remains.