When I started covering the car rental industry and entered mid-pandemic, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I first settled in. I am still learning the ins and outs of it all but have felt so welcomed and pleasantly surprised to see how vibrant this industry is and to witness resiliency at work. Obviously, many of you have faced challenges never seen before — from a pandemic to chip and vehicle shortages, new technologies changing the customer experience and more — it quickly became clear to me that rental operators and its suppliers are a hearty bunch. We’ve survived. We’ve even thrived.
Last year’s ICRS put this on full display. I mean, the energy in the rooms was palpable and I’m told we hadn’t seen registration numbers like that in a generation. I was surrounded not only by industry veterans eager to share their experiences, but a surprising number of fellow newbies brimming with questions and ideas.
Even up until last year, I thought of car rental as that traditional counter experience, but I became blown away to find out the breadth of operator types and how many players fit into in the space. For smaller and independent rental agencies, I am sure the shift causes some fear of what it means for the future. But, I believe there’s beauty in change because it forces innovation.
One way many of you responded not just to the pandemic, but new customer demands, was with technology. As a millennial (sorry!), I’m thrilled to see the rise in contactless service, keyless technology, automation, and new mobility solutions. Robust data platforms and telematics to better run fleets and manage vehicles present greater insights than we’ve ever had before. It’s exciting to watch.
And of course, there’s the whole EV revolution. Between governmental mandates and incentives, even those of us resisting the change will eventually need to concede a bit (says the Subaru driver still holding on to her 11-year-old Legacy). But adoption is only increasing, and the technologies are impressive. We won’t see Europe levels in the U.S. soon, but the data is compelling.
Last spring, I had the opportunity to visit Finland, where I caught up with a local operator. There, I was fascinated to witness firsthand the differences — and similarities — in rental across continents, from gas prices to tax structures, sustainability to vehicle brands. EVs and hybrids are much more prevalent in Europe, but education is often still needed for renters. One thing we don’t need to do in the U.S. is tell visitors how to dodge reindeer!
While I was able to squeeze in an overseas trip, not all of the public could. Watching the travel industry’s influence on car rental was an eye-opener for me. As we saw the world open up again and social media feeds filled with #vacay pics, business travel seems reluctant to swing back to normal — and economic and political conditions are doing it no favors. The Global Business Travel Association says business travel spending likely won’t fully rebound until 2026, and even domestically, travel managers say their spend is just 63% of what it was in 2019. The good news for rental is that demand for road trips isn’t wavering.
Before I came to this industry, I worked for years at a local chamber of commerce, where I was part of an association hard at work representing the interests of our members. I witnessed the power that a collective voice can have on policies, legislation, and awareness of critical issues. Knowing that I was a part of something bigger filled me with a sense of meaning, as well as unique opportunities to network and be a part of a community. That’s why it was so exciting to see the work being done to advance this industry. Getting involved really can pay dividends.
Overall, despite its deep traditional roots, the car rental market is clearly a dynamic industry, full of opportunity and innovations to come. I can’t wait to see what this next year brings.
Editor’s Note: This blog appeared in the 2023 Auto Rental News Fact Book! Find it and more insights and stats about the industry, online soon.