The car rental market is seeing exciting developments in joined up technology and more adventurous choices by customers while new regulations should help you book with increased confidence. By Debbie Ward.
New price transparency
New Civil Marketing Authority regulations introduced at the start of the year should prevent hidden extras and rebuild trust after negative press about the sector.
Affordable Car Hire chief executive Angela Day says: “What it means for the consumer is full transparency, it’s marvellous… and when the travel agent sees that price, it’s peace of mind and security.
“If the car rental goes wrong when the customer arrives at the airport, it is human nature that they will nit-pick about anything else that happens because their holiday has got off to a poor start.”
Larger family vehicles are on trend, with SUVs gaining popularity. A more unusual shift has been the rise in campervan hire by younger people, noted by Affordable, and demand for convertibles such as Ford Mustangs, particularly for touring America’s Route 66 – a trend noted by Flexible Autos, Affordable and Hertz, which has expanded its fleet as a result.
“People are getting more adventurous – they like to do things differently now,” says Day, who also notes an increase in requests for motorbikes such as Harley-Davidsons in Europe and the Middle East. Some bikes can be hired with a regular driving licence and can be a lucrative seller, she points out. Affordable is also launching extras such as helicopter flights through a tie-up with Viator.
Avis Budget Group is pioneering “connected cars”. It has established a test bed Mobility Lab in Kansas in the US and 20 rental locations so far have vehicles that seamlessly communicate with the company’s management platform and its mobile app.
Customers can make and manage their reservations, and even lock and unlock their cars using the app. The company meanwhile receives real-time information such as vehicle diagnostics and location, which it says helps to reduce costs and improve service.
An additional 50,000 vehicles will become fully connected in 2018 and its full global fleet should be compliant by 2020.
Avis Budget has also been trialling voice-controlled access to the booking system via Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. Sixt has meanwhile been working on intelligently interlinking mobility with transportation partners such as buses, railways and airlines.
There is slowly growing demand for greener hire vehicles, with hybrids more popular than electric cars due to the current lack of charging points on certain routes.
“This is still a small segment, which we expect will grow as car manufacturers launch models with higher driving ranges and cities improve the needed infrastructure,” says Hertz senior vice president of international sales Chris Rusden.
“People will opt for them as long as it is competitive and as each year goes on the number doing so is getting higher,” adds Affordable’s Day.
Flexible Autos’ top-selling destinations for the year to date are USA, Spain, Italy, Canada and the UK. “As is traditionally the case, the Balearic and Canary Islands continue to sell well and we encourage agents to book early to avoid disappointment. We currently have offers from £6 a day,” says Flexible’s managing director, Sue Dixon.
The Canaries are up 30-40% year-on-year for Affordable as customers pre-book for Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. Canada had a strong year in 2017 due to its anniversary celebrations.
As customers become increasingly adventurous, Australia and New Zealand are both showing an increase of more than 50% year-on-year for Flexible, while South Africa, Australia and, more unusually, Thailand, are up for Affordable.
Your Car Hire has a new North America programme featuring Avis Budget, Hertz and Dollar Thrifty, in addition to Alamo, Europcar and Sixt. “We’re very excited to be able to launch these new products for the USA and Canada to the trade giving more choice to the agent than any other broker,” says managing director Ruth Bligh.
■ Customers can usually choose either to leave an excess ring-fenced on their credit card or pay for extra insurance. Although the insurance is normally cheaper, the excess will actually be refunded if the car is returned in its original state, advises Holiday Extras.
■ All-inclusives are an often-overlooked opportunity, says Affordable Car Hire. Holidaymakers staying at such resorts will commonly hire a car for three to five days from a local rep – something an agent could have pre-booked.
■ Look out for mileage caps in certain locations, such as Portugal, and make sure customers realise they’ll be charged for any additional distance, says Holiday Extras. Also make them aware of drop-off charges for one-way journeys.
■ Compare costs with the car element stripped out of fly-drive packages, suggests Affordable. It can sometimes work out better value for the client and more commission for the agent with the car hire booked separately.
■ The Full-to-Full refuelling option is always preferable, advises Holiday Extras. The Full-to-Empty alternative may mean the rental company charging up to three times the cost of fuel to refill themselves.
■ Affordable recommends using the live chat facility while in front of a client to get instant answers via its website. Its 24-hour out-of-hours service is also a good selling point.
■ Holiday Extras recommends customers photograph their vehicles from all angles before setting off so any marks won’t be wrongly attributed to them.
■ Don’t forget to offer car hire extras – Affordable’s Bubble Bum child booster seats, for instance, are a popular seller.
■ Flexible Autos launched a new-look website in December based on agent feedback. It’s designed to be quicker and easier to navigate with various filter options and clearer promotions and discounts.
■ Your Car Hire has appointed Vivienne Shenkin as its Scotland sales rep. “We know that with her expertise and experience of the agents, she’ll be able to increase our market share in the area,” says managing director Ruth Bligh.
■ Affordable Car Hire is poised to launch a new training platform for agents with a guide to download and a certificate to earn. It already offers tailored weekly webinars and “pizza lunches” with a rep. Meanwhile, clients can currently opt to donate £1 per booking to its chosen charity Just A Drop.
■ Europcar is promoting its service that allows customers to begin and end their rental from home.