Emirates offers world class lounge services at BIA

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis As the country continues its march in progressive development with its five-hub ambition, aviation among them, it is important to increase the value of the overall product being offered to the customer. For any passenger who arrives at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) Katunayake – be it to catch a flight for a business meeting or to go on a shopping spree or on holiday with family and friends – past the immigration and the security, they are likely to look for a quiet place to relax and prepare for the next couple of hours of flight. Especially for a business client, rushing off from one meeting to board a plane for another, the time between security clearance and boarding time is important to clear his/her thoughts and get things in order. What better way to do this than at the Emirates Lounge, built at an investment of Rs. 200 million at the BIA? Designed, equipped and furnished to the exacting specifications developed for Emirates lounges at 30 other lounges in major international airports around the world, the 5,778-square-foot Emirates Lounge at the BIA can accommodate up to 108 passengers in comfort. Operated for the exclusive use of the airline’s First Class and Business Class passengers and Gold members of Skywards, Emirates’ frequent flyer program, the lounge is the first step of Emirates hospitality for its passengers. Having opened just over a year ago, Emirates is the sole airline operating a dedicated lounge for customers at the BIA. Accompanied by Emirates Airport Service Manager Sri Lanka Ravindra Weliwita, Emirates Manager Airport Services Product Development Don Surendra (stationed at the group headquarters in Dubai) and Lounge Supervisor Ashi de Silva, the Daily FT was taken on a tour of the lounge, with the officials reiterating the airline’s continued support to Sri Lanka’s tourism industry through its award winning services. The lounge and its facilities Walking into the lounge, it takes just a minute to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the airport and embrace the warmth of Emirates hospitality. With the calm tinkling of water at the reception area, a quiet comfort settles in as passengers walk in to dine, relax and watch the planes landing through the glass wall panel that decorates one end of the room. For those who simply cannot bear the thought of leaving behind loose ends with emails to reply and plans to recheck, the business centre offers the necessary comfort with laptops, printers, scanners and fax machines all in place. The lounge itself offers a seamless merger of Emirates lounges around the world with unique designs and services offered. It features over 50 leather armchairs, a dining area that accommodates some 50 people, an outdoor terrace overlooking airside with seating, a well-stocked bar, a TV viewing area with the choice of most of the international channels, a dedicated prayer room, shower facilities and washrooms for males, females and those with special needs. All bath and body products in the washrooms are from Emirates ‘Timeless’ collection. The lounge also offers buffet dining for all meals and Wi-Fi facilities. Another unique feature is the art featured at the lounge. Commissioned from an artist in Dubai, all Emirates lounges feature similar art and paintings merging Dubai with the host country through symbols and creative use of material and colour. While the walls are covered with such art, the decorations such as Arabic horses on certain tabletops are also exclusive to Emirates, the Daily FT learns. The reading material at the lounge features local magazines, Arabic magazines and international publications. A range of special gifts has been designed for kids as well. Dining facility While Emirates offers a range of services that would tap in to anyone’s heart, the food offered at the lounge takes precedence. With a standard menu for lunch, breakfast and dinner and a snack menu for early morning flights, the cuisine caters to international clients with a taste of home – host country and Dubai. On offer this month for lunch is a salad bar featuring roast vegetable salad, Greek salad with delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese tarts, a variety of cheese (emmental, camber, cheddar, edam) and hummus and Arabic pastry corner as starters. Soup is also offered. For the mains there was the spicy Thai fish cake, French beans, carrots and celery, roast potatoes, chicken schnitzel, prawns and Sri Lankan coconut curry, pilaf rice with coriander, cumin and cinnamon and chicken kafta pie. Sri Lankan pol roti is a big hit with the guests, Lounge Supervisor Ashi de Silva said and this is offered with a range of Arabic rotis. For dessert there was wood-apple mousse and chocolate gateaux.  A range of dates and nuts is presented, offering an Arabic touch to the dining space of the lounge. The lounge also features a Dilmah tea range. “All Halal, the food is an important part of our lounges,” de Silva said. “We serve only a little at the time so as to ensure that the food is fresh and warm for our passengers. There is always a good mix for vegetarians and meat lovers and the cuisine caters to the flavours of international, Asian and Arabic clients.” The menu is prepared in Dubai and is reviewed on a monthly basis. Sri Lanka’s position on the Emirates map “Sri Lanka has been a very important destination for Emirates for a very long time,” Emirates Manager Airport Services Product Development Don Surendra expressed. With the country being the fourth destination on the Emirates network with the airline launching its services to Sri Lanka in April 1986, it today links Sri Lanka with the 134 other destinations it flies to. “While the country being chosen as our forth destination speaks volumes of our faith in Sri Lanka, the affiliation Emirates has had with Sri Lanka has always helped us as well,” he said. So when the opportunity of furnishing the airport with one of its own lounges was presented, Emirates was more than willing to take it up. “It was a huge expenditure not only to build but to run the place. However, Emirates was very happy to spend the money. For us this is a good added value to Colombo as well.” Other Emirates lounges closest to Sri Lanka are in Delhi and Bombay, and in the Far East in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. He noted that the operation in Sri Lanka constitutes of 31 flights, a ‘large operation’ in its own right. “We want the service and airport to be brought up to another level and therefore we invested in a place like this.” For Emirates, the biggest challenge was to find the right location to set up shop here. Acknowledging that fitting out a lounge is less work than finding an area that could cater well to its customers while upholding the level of service and operation carried out in other lounges, Surendra said: “It was not easy to find this location; it took us a long time to work through it. Once you get the location, fitting out is very easy because we have done it over and over again. All furnishing is done through selected suppliers. There is a big support group in our facilities section in Dubai that helped us build this.” Global lounge refurbishment in plan As Manager for Airport Services Product Development Emirates, Surendra is also part of the team working on a global lounge interior refurbishment plan. With the launch of Concourse A Lounges in Dubai, the company has taken a decision to upgrade all lounges to the new interior design as featured in Dubai. The first of the airline’s existing worldwide network of lounges to be refurbished after Concourse A was Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Work along the same lines have started in London Gatwick airport while two new lounges set to come up in Los Angles and Narita will be built in the new design. As it has only been a year since the lounge was launched in Sri Lanka, it would take approximately five more years for the lounge to be refurbished accordingly, he asserted. “Even though the existing design is not dated, we wanted to refresh it. As an organisation, we don’t wait till it’s broken to fix it. We are always looking at improving,” he explained. “When Concourse A was being built, the idea was to really redo the design and make it lot more contemporary. The colours are much more subtle and softer.” The interior is set out to give a seven star hotel experience. “We have a great product around the world. But we have set a benchmark for Concourse A and we want to bring everyone else to that same level.” Noting the importance of the lounges for Emirates, he said: “The lounges are a very unique proposition for our customers within the cycle of service chain. Throughout the whole journey we want to ensure that at every touch point Emirates integrates with the customer, we provide a unique customer service that is always replicated wherever you go in the world. That is what we really put the effort in to. We are confident that no one else has this range and this level of lounges and service.” Keeping up-to-date Given its commitment to keeping its product fresh, the menus offered at the lounges are renewed every month with the local team working alongside the global catering team and a survey is conducted every six months to ensure that what they offer is top notch. All staff working in the lounges come to Dubai for four-day intensive course training. The staff is provided with a pre-course package prior to landing in Dubai and at the conclusion of the training, a specific level of competency must be reached to receive the certificate.  Refresher courses are also offered throughout the year. Next month, Emirates will bring all supervisors from around the world for a workshop in Dubai to bring them up to speed about what their plans for next year. “It is not just the hard stuff and the buildings; it is also the soft stuff. Staff selected here works very closely with Ravi and the team to ensure everything we have is the same standard with anywhere in the world. That, I think, is the strength of the brand,” Surendra said. Pix by Lasantha Kumara