London Calling

Despite a tumultuous few months, London’s postreferendum appeal is riding
high for Australian corporate travellers. Here’s what you need to know by Cora Lydon

In the past London may have been considered a premium destination for Aussies doing business overseas but the war on airfares has seen the lowest prices on the route for many years. Coupled with this has been the strong exchange rate in favour of the Aussie dollar – meaning your budget for booking hotels, travel and the like will be that little bit easier to manage. While London has a reputation for being an expensive city you might be pleasantly surprised: the Expatistan Cost of Living Index reveals that currently Sydney is 18 per cent more expensive for buying food than London: a basic lunchtime menu in the business district might set you back around £10 (around $16.50). When it comes to travel expenses though, the same Index reveals Sydney to be 31 per cent cheaper than London.

A large part of this affordability comes down to last year’s referendum result and the recent signing of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May. That event triggered the two-year countdown to leaving the European Union and Britain departing the club it joined in 1973. There’s no firm news on what this will mean for travellers into the country yet but Government’s top players will be busy trying to bash out new deals with other countries. For now everything stays the same, but come 2019 it could all change.

Travel
Once the boss has made it to London it may be tempting after that long flight to fall into a taxi. But if you’re looking to keep a close eye on the budget or if time is tight advise the boss to use an express train service. Opting for the Gatwick Express will save an average of 41 minutes travelling into central London compared to taking a taxi, while a typical cab fare from Stansted to the City will cost more than £120 (approx $200) – with a train service setting you back as little as £7 (approx $11.50).

With one of the largest urban transport networks in the world, savvy PAs know to advise the boss to ditch the car hire and hit public transport in London for the duration of their stay. Spanning the city’s 32 boroughs are the London Underground, the overground train service, two light railways, trams, buses and river bus services not to mention a cable car. Plus, of course, there are plenty of black cabs plying their trade on the streets – a quick word on these: the famous black cabs are the only form of taxi that can be hailed on the street, minicabs must be booked in advance.

Travel is quick, safe and efficient. Assistants can order in advance a Visitor Oyster card, which can be topped up with funds. Thirty pounds ($50) for a two-day trip in the capital should be plenty, while for a week you may want to load the card with the maximum (£50/$85). Money can be added at a Tube Station or at one of London’s more than 4,000 Oyster Ticket Shops, and if the boss doesn’t use it all you can get the balance refunded.

You can’t buy the Visitor Oyster cards in London. EAs can order them online at www.visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk and have it delivered or you can purchase one at Rail Plus Australia in Melbourne.

While the Tube is quick it does get very busy, particularly during rush hour. But if you make sure the boss has a map it’s easy to navigate and an efficient service. Taking the bus can offer the boss a great way to see some of London’s highlights, as does the river service. The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) serves parts of East and South East London – including the financial district of Canary Wharf – while trams, running between Wimbledon, Croydon, Beckenham and New Addington in South London are another option for getting around. To the East the Emirates Air Line is a cable car crossing the River Thames linking North Greenwich and Royal Victoria.

Finally if the boss likes to travel under their own scheme the city’s public bike scheme offers just that – and the first half an hour is free.

Staying safe
Following an attack in London in March this year which left five innocent people dead, the UK authorities assessed the threat of international terrorism to level four (out of five) – severe. Additionally the threat of terrorism originating from Northern Ireland remains severe. There is a heightened risk of an attack and Australians would be advised to be vigilant, follow any official warnings and take advice of local authorities.

While the boss is in London they’re also subject to all local laws and penalties, so it’s worth reading up on some of these. Police have the power to confiscate alcohol if it’s being consumed on the street in 74 separate zones across London and its boroughs – even if you’re directly outside a licensed premises. Less likely to be enforced is the law making it illegal to be drunk on licensed premises – for example a pub – which has been in place since 1839. Other laws that it’s probably safe to ignore include the banning of anyone carrying a plank along the pavement; or dying in Parliament.

One of the most British laws in place means it’s prohibited to jump the queue when waiting to buy a ticket for the train. You have been warned.

Local knowledge
Despite the hackneyed stereotype of Londoners, your boss is unlikely to cross paths with anyone speaking Cockney Rhyming Slang. London is a hugely multicultural city and more than a third of people who make their home here are foreign-born. Within the 610sq m that make up London, you can find more than 270 nationalities and hear around 300 different languages being spoken.

Do ensure the boss is prepared for the weather, sadly the jokes about the cold climate ring true – it can be extreme at times with snowstorms in the winter and flooding in the summer. Not to mention the insufferable heat experienced in mid summer when you’re trapped on the tube.

And the tube is not the only thing that’s warm – despite the fact that the climate in Britain is positively chilly in comparison to much of Australia, the beer is served traditionally at just below room temperature rather than chilled. Another quirk the boss will need to get used to is that in bathrooms up and down the country it’s not unusual to be faced with two taps on the sink – one for hot and one for cold.

Etiquette
Brits have a reputation for being unfailingly polite, reserved and hard to read so the boss may need to adjust their expectations and manner at any business meetings. The style of business in the UK is slightly more formal than in Australia – it would be considered bad manners to start eating until everyone is served if you’re at a business lunch while they may find that at a meeting the Brit is nodding in agreement the whole time while silently disagreeing with you.

Facts and figures are always well received in business meetings and you can show you’re taking it seriously by asking relevant questions and making notes.

Small talk is fine – the weather, your journey – but avoid anything too political; tension still runs high on key topics like the referendum.

There are a number of Bank Holidays – especially through the summer: two in May and one in August as well as the usual days off for Easter and Christmas. Should a Bank Holiday fall on a weekend then a substitute day off is allowed – usually the following Monday.

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