Nathan Cousins from AirPlus International tells us about the benefits of centralised payment and billing systems and how companies are booking smarter when it comes to business travel.
Could you just give us a quick summary of what AirPlus does?
We are a corporate payment solution provider and data warehouse. Essentially what that means is if you have a client with a large travel spend, we work with you and your travel provider to facilitate payments. So in terms of enhanced credit, we provide statements that automatically upload and reconcile for the client. This means that the travel provider won’t have to fund that credit themselves; allowing the former to keep a clean relationship with their client, as they won’t have to chase them for payment continuously. As we’re not a bank and we sit outside the banking government it doesn’t affect the travel provider’s other credit units.
How does a centralised payment and billing system help companies achieve easier administration?
They help achieve easier administration because companies don’t have to chase their clients for payment. In many companies it’s seen as best practice that all expenses – like plane tickets, accommodation and car hire bookings – should be built pre-trip. They are paid by the company so that these expenses aren’t sat with the traveller. It’s all about helping them see what invoices can be raised before the trip.
How has business travel and travel spend changed this year? Do you find that companies are cutting back?
It’s gone in waves. Initially, when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit, travel budgets were slashed and people stopped travelling. People realised after a while that the economic climate wasn’t going to improve for a long time and also that they couldn’t do business without travelling and spending. Companies started spending again but they were being far smarter about purchasing their travel. Nowadays, they might have a travel policy in place that encourages them to book much further in advance, using cheaper fares and rates. Companies that have employees staying for six nights in a hotel might now say it’s far more economical to go with serviced apartment providers. It’s a smarter decision that people are taking and are now starting to implement. Travel budgets are going down but the number of trips remains relatively high.
We know you’re member of ITM – how do you think business travel companies benefit from being part of this association? What do you find you get out of it?
ITM is all about knowledge sharing and creating new industry best practices. There’s been a shift where new suppliers have come in, such as the serviced apartment industry, and I think ITM is a perfect example of the evolving nature of travel. Years ago, corporate travel was hotels, cars, flights and not much else. It’s all evolving now to travel welfare, with serviced apartments and a number of supplier categories that may not have been considered ten years ago.
Quick fire round:
Cricket or tennis: [Thinks for a while] Rugby?
Trains or planes: Planes
Aston Martin or Ferrari: Aston Martin, as long as it’s the 1996 V8 Vantage.
London or New York: I’ve only ever been to New York once, so let’s say New York because I want to go back.
Hotels or serviced apartments: Serviced apartments! [Caroline: Good answer!]