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Weighing up air travel, car rental, and rail travel for your next business trip

In the context of business travel, every trip's ultimate success is measured not just by closing the deal or meeting the business objectives, but also by the trip’s return on investment (ROI).

In South Africa, for example, due to safety concerns and a virtually non-existent rail network, the primary options for business travel are car rental and air travel.

This ROI is influenced by numerous variables, including the cost of travel, the time spent on the journey, the carbon emissions related to the journey, and the health and wellness of the travellers. The choice of transport becomes increasingly important when factoring in all these elements. Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM Travel, explains companies need to have a close look at what the most cost-effective and sustainable way to travel is for their road warriors, particularly in an age where climate change is a pressing issue and businesses are being encouraged to measure and reduce their carbon emissions. “Whether it’s better to send out your road warriors by air, rail or car will depend on the region,” says Smith “In South Africa, for example, due to safety concerns and a virtually non-existent rail network, the primary options for business travel are car rental and air travel. However, in regions with more developed infrastructure, like Europe and the United States, rail travel can be a viable and often preferred choice.”

Choosing between air travel, car rental, and rail travel

Each mode of transportation comes with its unique advantages and disadvantages, according to a study conducted by FCM Consulting. For an individual traveller, rail travel is the lowest carbon emitter, followed by air travel. However, when travelling in a group, a car becomes more efficient in terms of carbon emissions. However, not all modes of transport are practical from the standpoint of time or cost.

Johannesburg – Cape Town
In South Africa, a trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town would take approximately 120 minutes by air, costing around R1 500, with carbon emissions of 90kg CO2 emission units. However, a car rental for the same route would take significantly longer, about 1 000 minutes while doubling the cost and carbon emissions.

From a wellness perspective, the stress and fatigue associated with long car journeys could lead to higher travel friction, which could adversely affect the trip’s overall ROI. Furthermore, considering South Africa’s high road accident rates, air travel is the safer option as well as the more eco- and budget-friendly choice.

London – Paris
When we examine a popular European route, like London to Paris, we introduce the viable option of rail travel. Air travel remains the fastest option, taking 2.7 hours and costing $407, but with a considerable carbon footprint of 106kg CO2 emission units.

Rail travel takes significantly longer, 4.7 hours, and is slightly more expensive, at $435. However, it is the most environmentally friendly option, with a low carbon footprint of 4kg CO2 emission units.

Car rental is the least efficient option, taking 12 hours, costing $950, and producing high carbon emissions of 158kg CO2e units.

“For business travellers arriving in Europe, rail travel offers a blend of affordability, comfort, and eco-friendliness. Additionally, it provides a low-stress travel environment conducive to productivity, with amenities like Wi-Fi and dining facilities available on many services. However, the longer travel time could be a potential downside, particularly for time-sensitive trips,” explains Smith.

… the consideration of carbon emissions and travel friction is increasingly important.

Factoring in traveller wellness and carbon emissions
As businesses globally aim to be more eco-conscious and mindful of employee wellness, the consideration of carbon emissions and travel friction is increasingly important.

“Air travel, while faster and potentially less stressful, does have a higher carbon footprint per individual traveller than car travel. Rail travel, with its lower carbon emissions and potential for a more relaxed journey, especially in regions with well-developed rail networks, stands out as a balanced choice. However, the feasibility of rail travel is heavily dependent on the region,” says Smith “The best mode of transportation for business travel is highly dependent on the specific needs of the trip and the infrastructure of the region,” concludes Smith. “Your travel management company can, however, help you balance time, cost, carbon emissions, safety, and traveller wellness so you can maximise the ROI of business travel, wherever the destination may be.”

FCM Travel, the flagship corporate travel brand at Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG), is the business travel partner of choice for large national, multinational and global corporations. They are an award-winning global corporate travel management company ranking as one of the top five by size around the world, which operates a global network which spans more than 100 countries, employing over 6 000 people. www.fcmtravel.co.za

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