Europe business travel cost can vary 200%

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The Independent Online
EUROPE may be moving - albeit haltingly - towards unity, but there are still marked differences between the continent's states, writes Roger Trapp.

This is particularly true of business travel. Standard business expense items can vary in cost by as much as 200 per cent, according to a survey involving 10 cities in western Europe by Visa International, the credit and debit card company.

For example, the cost of hiring a mid- range car can range from pounds 50 a day in Amsterdam to more than pounds 130 in nearby Brussels. Even more dramatically, the cost of a day's secretarial help at a hotel business centre can vary from just over pounds 40 in Milan to nearly pounds 250 in Geneva.

London - despite its published single room rates at a four-star hotel being the highest in the region at pounds 223 - does have some bargains on offer: daily car hire costs pounds 56.50 and a day's secretarial service came to just pounds 77.

The result is a tough obstacle to any company seeking to rationalise its travel and entertainment (T&E) costs, says John Chaplin, Visa's vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Pointing out that these expenses tend to be a company's largest controllable overhead, after personnel and data processing, he said this level of disparity made the task of formulating a coherent travel policy 'all the harder'.

'If a company pays pounds 120 for a hotel room in Dublin and is then charged pounds 220 for a similar room in Brussels, forward budgeting and cost control can become a nightmare.'

One solution he suggests - not surprisingly - is to use a Visa business card programme that allows a company to forecast realistic budgets, negotiate bulk discounts with suppliers and monitor the spending patterns of particular employees or departments.