St Petersburg ranked as one of the world's most expensive cities

By Linda Jones

Penny-pinching Swiss businessmen have rated St Petersburg more expensive to live in than New York or London in a worldwide poll of the cost of living.

Out of 125 destinations surveyed St Petersburg came in 27th above cities including Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Dublin and Los Angeles.

Moscow -- which was last year named Europe's most expensive city, this year dropped to number six. St Petersburg also dropped down the league table. Last year it was placed 13th.

The poll, which concluded Tokyo and Osaka were easily the most expensive cities in the world, was conducted by the Geneva-based Corporate Resources Group.

Researchers examined the price of a basket of 155 goods and services, excluding housing and schooling. The survey was conducted simultaneously at the beginning of March, using exchange rates prevalent at that time. Spokesman Carlos Mestre explained that the fall of the Russian cities was due to the stability of dollar prices quoted in Moscow stores and the strength of major European currencies against the dollar. He admitted the survey provided only a "snapshot" of the relative cost of living around the globe.

"But it's still real," Mr Mestre added. "If you're a European businessman in the States, you'll find it cheap. If you're an American tourist in Europe, it hurts."

The shock survey drew a mixed reaction from foreign businessmen and tourists in St Petersburg last week. Many questioned the validity of the report, saying it showed a lack of research.

Neal Dewey of Wal-Rus Ltd ridiculed the report, labeling it a "stab in the dark' and saying that St Petersburg was "most definitely not" more expensive to live in than New York.

"St Petersburg is less expensive to live in than any American city of comparable size," he said. "It's more enjoyable and safer too."

Mr Dewey said food and transport in particular were significantly cheaper. "They must have done all their shopping at Western supermarkets," he said. "I bet they have never even heard of rynoks."

The American businessman, who has lived in St Petersburg for the last 18 months, said that the only thing the city really lacked was a good, moderately-priced hotel.

But New Yorker Richard Torrence, advisor to St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak on international projects, felt the survey was pretty close to the mark.

While he questioned the usefulness of such surveys he still thought the results were interesting.

"I've dined in restaurants here where you pay twice as much as you would in New York for worse food and service and then the waiter will try and add a 25% tip on the bill," he said.

He also agreed with the survey's finding that St Petersburg was relatively less expensive now compared to last year.

Mr Torrence stressed that he "just loved this city," and felt it was only going to get better to live here in the future.

British tourist Nicky Edwards said she had found certain clubs and bars expensive -- with costly admittance fees and bills for food and drinks.

But she was impressed with the range of goods available at a growing number of supermarkets and said they seemed to be much the same price as at home.

"Of course with Russian wages these things would be out of many people's reach but for people coming from outside with money it's fine."

*The survey comes five months after CRG published a poll putting St Petersburg in the bottom four of a league table of the most desirable worldwide destinations, sparking outrage from tourism chiefs.