When global consultancy firm ECA International published their list of the 10 most expensive cities in the world for business travel in March this year, there were no surprises:
1. New York
3. Washington DC
5. San Francisco
6. Tel Aviv
7. Los Angeles
The US and Switzerland dominate the list with – as any traveller on South African rands will tell you – Tel Aviv, London and Paris close behind. And while Luanda might feel like an outlier, Angola’s booming oil economy coupled with a huge demand for safe housing, goods and services among ex-pats is driving the cost of living (and travelling) there.
In fact, perhaps the only surprise is just how expensive things have become. According to ECA, the average cost of a work trip to New York, will cost travellers, on average, $796 per day. Or, depending on the current exchange rate, around R14 638.14.
Is it even possible to make your rand stretch in these cities? Where in London, for example, according to the Office for National Statistics, the average price of a pint of lager is now £4.23 – or approximately R98.42.
Unfortunately, if you’re travelling on rands the exchange rate is against you. Making your budget stretch will require effort, pre-planning and a little ingenuity:
1. Update – and understand – your per diem
For Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM Travel, setting realistic per diems for travellers is key.
“A travel management company (TMC) will offer guidelines around accommodation spend, as well as meals and incidental travel expenses, depending on the location and even time of year,” says Smith. “This can, and should, vary from city to city, ensuring your travellers have a productive and stress-free trip.”
Importantly, says Smith, this includes understanding what costs are covered by the company and how reimbursements are treated post-trip.
“A traveller needs to understand how much they can spend, what types of expenses aren’t covered under their per diem, as well as how they’re handling payments on the road – is it with a company card, or are travellers being reimbursed post-trip? All this should be laid out clearly in a company’s travel policy, so there is no room for misinterpretation,” says Smith.
2. Spend a little time securing the right accommodation
While travel bookers often focus on securing the cheapest flights available, you should also spend time researching and weighing up alternative accommodation options. For example, serviced, self-catering apartments can come in cheaper than hotels (with the added bonus of preparing your own meals and snacks on the cheap) – but then you need strict parameters in place to distinguish between per diem meal costs and personal grocery expenses. As Smith explains, costs like parking, laundry, groceries and even alcohol need to be factored in, so your travellers know exactly where they stand – and what costs they’ll be able to claim back.
According to Smith, a good TMC should be able to deliver significant savings when it comes to your hotel programme. “The FCM platform gives you access to thousands and thousands of different accommodation options, including hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses, which can be narrowed down according to your budget and travel policy,” says Smith. “But we’ll also use our global buying power to negotiate the best rates – and terms – on your behalf. In this way, you can choose to pay up front or on account, and you can accumulate loyalty points for everything from room upgrades to early check-in and late check-out. It’s a great way to save money, but also ensure your travellers have a safe and consistently good experience – wherever they are in the world.”
3. Use public transport
New York, Geneva, Zurich and London, in fact all the cities on the list with the exception of Luanda, have extensive, efficient and reliable public transport systems. The cities are easy to get around, whether by bus, train, tram or boat, and if you buy a travel card or day pass, relatively inexpensive. It’s more sustainable too – and a great way to get to know your destination. Put simply, avoid private shuttles and taxis and enjoy the privilege of world-class public transport.
4. Discover your destination’s street food
Unless you’re entertaining VIP clients, there’s no reason to blow your money at fancy restaurants while on a business trip. New York City is famous for its street food and home to some of the best side carts and food trucks in the world. Believe it or not, you’ll also find food trucks scattered throughout Geneva,
especially along the lake shore and in the city’s parks. London is well-known for its markets – and you’ll be able to find delicious, fresh fare on the run at markets around Soho, South Bank and Liverpool Street. In other words, eat like a local and add a touch of colour and authenticity to your trip without breaking the bank!
5. Look out for great deals on music and entertainment
If you haven’t travelled for a while you’ll want to get as much out of your trip as you can. This includes maximising your downtime to explore the city, take in a show, or wander around a museum. It’s time to embrace your inner backpacker and research the best deals out there! For example, an open top bus trip is a great way to catch a glimpse of all the big sights when you have limited time available; a stroll through Camden Town’s warren of stalls and markets is cheap way to get a dose of (counter) culture; and most cities have free museums and parks to explore. It just takes a little research and planning. Search for attractions that offer free admission and look for discounted tickets to shows and events, for example, the TKTS booth in London’s Leicester Square offers half-price and discounted theatre tickets, while going directly to a theatre on the day can also yield impressive discounts on returns and unsold tickets.