It stands to reason that international car rental bookings for U.S.-based travel advisors have been down for most of this year, as a result of COVID-related travel restrictions placed on Americans by most foreign countries. But there is a silver lining to the situation: Domestic car rentals are up, way up, according to several of the travel advisors we interviewed.
Let’s take a look at some of the rental car trends, as we’re about to move into 2021.
One-way corporate rentals
“We have seen a huge increase in car rentals overall, and specifically in the one-way car market,” said Craig Anderson, Corporate Travel Manager, at Hess Corporate Travel, a large travel management company based in Utah.
“They are mostly corporate clients who no longer want to fly, but instead feel safer renting a car and driving themselves to the meeting location. For those who are staying longer at a new location, they will pick up their car in their home city and drop the car once they arrive at their new destination. Then when they are ready to return, they will rent another car and drive it back home.”
Elsa Atayan, Manager, Corporate Department, at TravelStore, which has several locations in California, has also seen an uptick in car rentals. “The biggest trend that I have observed is an increase in car-rental-only bookings (these are bookings that do not include air segments). Corporate travelers are opting for car rentals to conduct company business rather than air travel on short-haul flights … due to the hassle of airports and air travel. Travelers are opting for domestic trips accessible by car.”
Pre-COVID, corporate rentals were typically booked during the week. But now, more travelers are picking up the vehicles and going somewhere for leisure for the weekend, and then keeping the rentals into the work week to conduct business.
Atayan relayed that the TravelStore is “seeing longer-period car rentals, and that might be due to the fact that clients are keeping the rental and combining it with a road trip. Or, since some short-haul routes have been canceled by airlines, the client needs the car for a longer period of time for end-to-end business trips.”
Also in agreement, Diane Loewenberg, Senior Corporate Travel Consultant, at Travel One, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, said: “We have found that some renters who, in the past, would fly a 300-400-plus-mile distance, are interested in the possible option of driving themselves instead. That will extend the ‘normal’ one-to-three-day rental cycles.”
Instead of Uber
Another trend some travel advisors have seen is customers booking rental cars at the same time that flights and/or hotels are booked.
“The main reason, in my opinion, that clients are booking a car rental at the same time as flights and/or hotels are booked is that where they would have used Uber or Lyft once at the destination, they are now opting for an individual car rental in order to decrease the chance of possible exposure to COVID-19,” said Atayan. “I would think this is a trend that would continue for a long time to come. This goes back to peace of mind of knowing they are the only ones with access to the vehicle during the rental period.”
Direct billing and memberships
More companies are setting up direct billing so the traveling employee does not have to use their own credit card. Anderson always suggests that a company sets up a direct bill account with at least one car rental company. And he makes sure the company and their employees are aware of what insurance is covered as part of their agreement.
Loewenberg noted seeing an increase in new enrollments in express memberships, so travelers can avoid spending extra time and personal interactions at the car rental counters. She advises that: “It’s even more important these days to communicate with our customers that do not have frequent renter IDs set up, to sign up. The benefit of being able to bypass the counter after the first rental, and going straight to the car can be a valuable one.”
Domestic drive vacations
On the leisure side, road trips have, once again, become hugely popular as a vacation option. We all know that most people have an innate desire to travel and explore new places. It just doesn’t feel natural for most of us to sit still in one place for too long − and apparently, not even a pandemic could change that most basic expression of human nature.
Travel advisors can serve as the spark of inspiration that their clients need to get them thinking about taking to the road, as a family, with friends, or even as a grand solo adventure. Even if this was not a segment that advisors focused on pre-pandemic, it’s a good place to put some extra effort in now, especially since it looks like most international travel restrictions are going to continue for quite some time.
Anderson mentioned that some of his leisure clients wanted to take a vacation to California, but they didn’t want to fly. Instead, they rented a car and drove the 10 hours there and back. This way, they avoided putting excessive mileage on their own vehicles, but they still enjoyed a refreshing and relatively safe break from the everyday.
His advice to other travel advisors: “Simply offer the car rental as an alternative for a passenger who is still concerned about flying in the COVID environment.”
Perhaps the most important action to take is to keep the lines of communication open with clients. Be sensitive to how they may be feeling about safety concerns during the current global health crisis. But also offer them solutions and motivation to get out there and travel safely for both business and leisure, as their lifestyle and comfort levels allow.
FROM THE SPONSOR: Enterprise Holdings, Inc. is a leading provider of mobility solutions, owning and operating the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands through its integrated global network of independent regional subsidiaries. Enterprise Holdings and its affiliates offers extensive car rental, carsharing, truck rental, fleet management, retail car sales, as well as travel management and other transportation services to make travel easier and more convenient for customers. Privately held by the Taylor family of St. Louis, Missouri, Enterprise Holdings manages a diverse fleet of nearly 1.7 million vehicles through a network of more than 9,500 fully staffed neighborhood and airport rental locations in nearly 100 countries and territories.