Save for post 9/11, last year's Car Rental Show took place in what may turn out historically to be the industry's darkest hour. One major lender had dropped out within that year and funding was at a standstill. The global financial crisis was in full swing. The Chrysler bankruptcy was eminent, with GM soon to follow. A "staycation" was a kind term for kids jumping through the sprinkler in the backyard.
We put a brave face on it, but it was hard to see the forest through the trees. What a difference a year makes to this year's show, which took place this week in Las Vegas. The economy is showing signs of life (as it has been for the past six months). Liquidity is back, but with a reality check on rates. That one lender has its toe back in the water. New OEMs are selling into rental.
What matters most, though, is that the car rental industry is rolling with the punches and making money renting cars again. The industry has settled on a business model that seems to be working, one based on tight fleets, high utilization, cost cutting and refraining from chasing market share.
Mind you, these forces were generally thrust on the industry by banks with less willingness to lend money and manufacturers with fewer cars to sell. And we can all thank the heavens for the best used car market in years.
But let's not quibble on the genesis of this renewal. The mood at the show was very positive, from the Wall Street community that came to see what the fuss was about down to the independent operators on Main Street. There was a renewed energy in the sessions and on the expo floor. Our keynotes and breakout sessions played to a pack house. Attendance was up substantially. This is a testament to the revitalized health of the industry.
We promoted to, and got, a strong presence of international operators this year. Many overseas operators-especially the independents-don't yet have the same resources that we have to make their businesses better, so I hope our exhibits and seminars were valuable to you. For the international operators, the networking was just as important. I was in the middle of a spirited conversation between South African and Brazilian car rental operators as they fretted about similar credit card regulations that affected their loss ratios and no show rates.
For the first time it looks like real progress is being made on no-show fees. During the ACRA session, association President Bob Barton asked the room who would be in favor of the implementation of no show fees. Of the 200 or so in attendance, all but a handful raised their hands. Sure, the room of mostly franchisees and independents is perhaps a "stacked deck" in favor of this. But it was the first time a group this large and diverse was actively participating in the discussion. Look for ACRA to take the lead on addressing standards for their implementation.
The Car Rental Show has always been a gathering place to share ideas. The funny thing is you never know what bits of knowledge you'll acquire that end up making the whole trip worthwhile. Sarah Romanowski of Ride Share Systems, a N.J. Dollar franchisee, won the best idea from the "7 Moneymaking Ideas" session. She uses a verification company called Accurint to qualify cash rentals. For only 25 cents--the cheapest verification I've seen-the company instantly verifies five pieces of customer information. Says one operator: "That tip alone was worth my show pass this year."
Thank you to the speakers who provided the diverse and meaningful content. And thank you to the exhibitors and car rental operators who attended. It was gratifying to see you connect on the expo floor. Attendees will be getting a survey emailed to them. Please let us know what we did well, and where we can do better.
For those of you who made it through last year-and many of you didn't--I congratulate you. I hope this statement brings you luck in the following year: See you at the Car Rental Show in 2011!