Technology and an increasing demand to “go green” from consumers is reshaping today’s car rental market
Renting a car used to be a fairly simple process: you would roll up to the rental company’s desk, sign a couple of forms, pick up your keys and do a quick visual check of the vehicle for any damage before firing up the engine and heading on your way.
While all these elements are still a necessary part of the rental process, mobile technology is changing the way people choose and pick up their holiday vehicles – whether it’s a car, motorhome or even a motorbike – as well as how agents book these services for clients.
There is also a far greater range of vehicles on offer for customers – ranging from electric eco-friendly options to supercars for those who want to spend a few days turning heads by driving around in a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
Increased flexibility is also now a major part of the rental landscape – not just in terms of duration, but also through car rental companies offering a wider range of transport options. These include chauffeur-driven airport transfers, access to ride-hailing services and car clubs, where vehicles can be hired off city streets for a few hours.
This diversification in services can be seen in the way many of the leading global brands are now styling themselves as “mobility” specialists rather than just car rental firms.
Rental companies are busy developing platforms that tap into the consumer desire for “on-demand” services, which involves providing more flexible transport and transfer options, as well as using technology to streamline the rental and pick-up/drop-off processes.
Avis Budget Group, for example, owns car-sharing service Zipcar, while Sixt offers a limousine transfer service alongside car-sharing service Sixt Share. Then there’s Hertz’s DriveU partnership with Air France, which provides private driver transfers from more than 300 airports.
Julia Kemp, director of international sales and partnerships at Avis Budget Group, says: “Consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with on-demand services, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, and are beginning to expect this from all services they use, including mobility.
“Technology is at the heart of our approach to improving our service to meet these new mobility requirements. We know that customers want an on-demand, personalised and seamless rental experience which has led to a rise in demand for app-enabled travel.”
The use of apps to speed up the pick-up process continues to gather pace, as does the deployment of electronic kiosks within rental locations so customers can complete the formalities and pick up their keys without having to wait to be served at the ubiquitous rental desk.
“Something that seems to be on the increase is the introduction of self-check-in pods,” says Ruth Bligh, managing director of Your Car Hire.
“These are being rolled out by some of our suppliers in major airport destinations. This enables the savvy traveller to self-check in or check out, reducing the pick-up/drop-off time and queue times.”
Trade-only car hire broker Flexible Autos has introduced kiosks with several suppliers, enabling key collection without having to queue at the desk. These kiosks are currently available in the UK, US and Spain, with locations in Italy, France and Portugal due to follow later this year.
The rental industry is also responding to increased consumer demand for “greener” vehicles and transport options, which can help to reduce the carbon footprint of a holiday or trip. David Gordon, content manager at Affordable Car Hire, says: “Customers are very conscious of pollution and the concept of their carbon footprint.
“We already work with partners who provide electric cars. Our partners are aware of the need for low-emission vehicles as well as increasing their range of electric cars. We endeavour to meet customer demand, and rental periods can be flexible as required.”
The availability of electric and other types of greener vehicles can vary depending on the destination clients are travelling to, although there are signs of constant improvement in this area, with Your Car Hire’s Ruth Bligh
expecting these vehicles to be available “in all locations by 2023”.
Dean Dexter, operations director of Flexible Autos, adds: “We know how important sustainability in travel is to the industry, and so we are working closely with our supplier base to offer greener vehicles in particular.
“We are destination-led on this, as not all countries have the infrastructure to offer these cars. But improvements are happening rapidly and we expect to see an increase in availability this year.”
Of course, not all clients will be looking to hire a greener vehicle. For those wanting something a bit more eye-catching and speedy, specialist operators such as Driverso (formerly known as Vroomerz) offer holidaymakers the chance to hire iconic sports cars including Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bentleys and Maseratis (although Driverso also offers electric Tesla vehicles as well).
With such a diversity of rental options and vehicles, car hire firms and brokers are also working hard to ensure agents can easily access this ever-growing inventory and give clients the widest possible choice.
Avis Budget, for example, operates its own UK travel trade website called Beep (abgbeep.com), allowing agents to book both Avis and Budget vehicles on a single platform and earn commission. Competitors including Hertz, Europcar (Click4Wheels) and Enterprise also have their own online trade portals.
Trade-facing brokers are also increasing their investment in technology to help agents sell a wider range of rental products.
Your Car Hire’s inventory is integrated into Traveltek and Intuitive systems, as well as offering API and white-label options to agents.
“We are constantly working with our development team to ensure that our website works on all technology platforms and are looking at the development of an app to make things even easier for the travel agent,” says Ruth Bligh.
Meanwhile Flexible Autos has introduced online check-in with several rental partners, allowing customers to save time by entering their details prior to arriving at the pick-up location.
Affordable Car Hire’s David Gordon adds: “We are always looking at ways to improve and help our agent partners through our social media channels and online booking. We are developing a new platform that will be going live later this year.”
Then there’s the tantalising prospect of self-driving or autonomous vehicles – currently being developed by the likes of Uber, Google’s Waymo and many of the world’s leading car manufacturers. One day, holidaymakers may no longer have to worry about driving on the “wrong” side of the road or obeying unfamiliar motoring rules, although this new reality may still be a few years away.