Interview: Paul Spelman, Airplus

Paul Spelman was made Airplus’s UK managing director earlier this month, following previous roles at the travel payment solutions company as UK country manager, and head of UK partnerships. Previosuly he was a commercial consultant at Amadeus. 

You’ve recently been appointed managing director – how’s the new role going so far?
It’s going really well. Caroline Haywood was the previous UK managing director, and quite well known, but she is now heading up a global team as “Head of Customer for Life”, responsible for bid management, as there are more and more requests. So that’s allowed me to step into her shoes. It’s a good time to take over as we are strongly established in the UK. It’s a great starting point. 

What are you priorities?
That’s a good question. Clearly, being new on the block, I’ll make sure the management team is working closely together. That’s internal. But we pride ourselves on our service levels. We offer UK-based sales and support, and that differentiates us from our competitors. There’s continued growth in the UK and Ireland, and we are also about to launch a product for Ireland, expanding our Virtual Payment Solution [A.I.D.A solution] in response to customer demand.

What do you think makes Airplus stand out?
We position ourselves as a niche player. When you compare us to banks, they may have travel, but it’s not their focus. Our staff are a combination of travel people and payment people. When we talk to TMCs, we understand the workflow.

How are virtual cards viewed in the corporate travel market today?
We were one of the first companies to introduce virtual cards; I think it was back in 2009. Back then, like with any new technology, there’s a speed to which it is recognised. Now it’s a defacto way of paying. We work with Mastercard, which is recognised globally. TMCs reinforce virtual payments with merchant agreement. We also work with the GTMC, and HEDNA (Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association) to educate hotel people. At Airplus, it’s the fastest growing part of our business, at 26 per cent year on year.

Airplus is 100 per cent owned by Lufthansa. What’s your relationship with them exactly?
We are UK based, but our HQ is in Frankfurt, and while Lufthansa is our shareholder, we are left to run the business independently. It works to our advantage having this – they just recorded their highest ever profit. They provide us with the infrastructure that a smaller company couldn’t afford. 

How did the partnership with Japan Airlines come about?
We’ve always strong sales in Europe, due to Lufthansa, so we made a conscious decision to sell on a global basis. This was a tactical move to get to the APAC market.

Any more partnerships on the horizon? 
There’s a trend of seamless, or invisible, payments, and a key focus for us is that for every system, whether a TMC, corporate or end user, we make sure our technology is embedded into that… We can’t dictate to a TMC what platform to use; we needed to be integrated into all these.

Airplus is preparing to roll out a unified corporate card across its European markets. Read more here

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