Bob Barton is president and COO of Franchise Services of North America (FSNA), and president of ACRA.
Happy New Year! It has such a nice ring to it and with it comes New Year’s resolutions. How long they last, well, that is the age old question. Inevitably, resolutions have to do with change — relationships, your weight, your habits, something.
We just re-elected a president who campaigned about the need to make changes. Yet this was the same president who ran on a campaign of change four short years ago. One thing we can all agree on, we are NOT in better shape than we were at the start of change four years ago.
In our world of car rental, though, there have been some big changes, and unfortunately, still a lot of the same. Four years ago, we had just started a recovery from when we thought the screws were going to come off. Chrysler and GM were stabilizing, program vehicle repurchases were not going to be defaulted on, and DTG (Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group stock) was at $19 from its previous low of under $1.
Fast forward to today and we have DTG being acquired for $87.50, residual values are at record highs and credit enhancements have started to decline (although not fast enough).
But what about change? Airlines are maximizing their yields: baggage fees, pay for meals and pay for carry-on for some. Even Southwest has adopted no-show fees and you will no longer get a credit for a future flight. Hoteliers are getting smarter, offering pre-paid room nights and even their own web portal roomkey.com.
Where are we? On Jan. 14, you could book a car at the Seattle-Tacoma airport for a Jan. 21 departure for $7 per day. Fort Lauderdale airport and Orlando were $11 per day, and San Diego was $14. And all these reservations did not require a credit card or any deposit. We obviously do not recognize what the word “change” means. We are living in the dark ages.
We provide a superior product to our customers, offer the newest technology advances, make the rental process easier than ever, adapt, adapt, adapt, yet do nothing as it relates to the rest of the travel industry in terms of adapting our terms and conditions to 2013. WE are the ones that need change!
We try to be good corporate citizens, even adapting to recall legislation for things that are produced by others. We provide toll services in vehicles where states have eliminated toll booth collectors allowing our customers from out of state to pay for the use of those roads. We accept our customer’s credit card coverage and then have to incur fees and costs to attempt to recover for the damage done to our property without inconveniencing the consumer.
If we change in every way imaginable to facilitate the needs of our consumers, should we continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the travel industry and get no respect? We offer a great product and great service.
Consumers should treat us with a little dignity and put up a deposit when they expect us to hold a car. If they need to cancel (and the need does arise), let us know and we’d be happy to give them a refund. Just tell us. But most of all, consumers shouldn’t make five reservations with five different companies just to make sure they get a car. We deserve to be treated a little better than that.
I love reading the stories of the travel writers complaining that one customer had four unpaid $0.50 tolls and was charged $101 by the rental company and the rental car company was “ripping the customer off.” You would think the writer would have the decency to let others know that we got four separate citations from the state, each of which had to be independently researched, investigated, letters written to the customer, etc. Why? Because the states often don’t consolidate their data, and the customer decided to play “catch me if you can.”
So what do I want for 2013? I want change.
We are not Rodney Dangerfield and do not deserve to be treated like him. But we also need to change; we need to act like it is 2013 because the policies of the '80s just do not work anymore.
Think about it.
About the Author
Bob Barton is president and COO of Franchise Services of North America (FSNA), and president of ACRA. This guest editorial is the sole view of Barton, and in no way reflects the opinions of FSNA or ACRA.
To see more features in the 2013 How-To Issue from Auto Rental News, click here.