The big ballroom at the Hilton kept filling up with people just before Larry De Shon's keynote speech. Chairs were added. People lined the walls. The crowd-more than 600-hadn't turned out like this in many years. "It reminds me of the old days," remarked one of the old guards, referencing the early years of the show's 16-year history.
This year, there was evidence that the Car Rental Show (CRS) is once again growing beyond an independent and licensee-only affair. Along with the usual crowd of entrepreneurs, large independents, franchisees, affiliates and mom-and-pop shops, CRS 2011 drew attendees from all corners of the globe, including Canada, Ireland, Korea, India, Venezuela, Australia and the Middle East. Representatives from the automakers were there, as were the Wall Street guys, along with many new faces who showed up looking to make business or at least see what all the fuss was about.
More pictures from CRS 2011 can be viewed here.
Before De Shon took the stage, Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association, announced that Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group and Avis Budget Group had both joined ACRA the week before the conference.
The announcement brings ACRA two steps closer to gaining buy-in from all the majors. And it comes at an opportune time, with the industry healthy yet facing mounting threats that need a swift response in a cohesive, decisive voice representing the entire industry.
"Judging by the crowd here this morning at the show, I can without hesitation state that this is a new era of solidarity for the car rental industry," said Faulkner. "It has always been my dream to see this industry take on a credible and meaningful role as legislation, consumer advocacy, travel issues, tax initiatives and other public policy matters are debated by the media and elected officials at all levels. We can make a difference by being a part of a recognized, strategic industry organization that speaks with a unified voice and a consistent message."
Faulkner's opening remarks set the tone for two days of keynote speeches, panels, seminars and expo hall activities in which the industry gathered to educate, gain consensus and set direction.
Larry De Shon: Technology Will Automate Car Rental
In his opening keynote address, Larry De Shon, executive vice president of operations at Avis Budget Group, provided a look into the future of car rental through technology.
De Shon showed how technology can shorten repair times, locate stranded renters, improve customer service response and leverage ancillary sales. De Shon's main point, however, centered on how technology is actually changing the way cars are rented.
Car sharing–while still a minute piece of the overall fleet and revenue pie–has inherent technological advancements that can be used in traditional car rental to automate and decentralize the process, regardless of whether the rental is by the hour or for a week. Such systems can be used to expand a rental company's local market presence without expanding brick-and-mortar operations.
De Shon gave the example of a group of cars parked at a corporate campus in designated parking areas. Company employees can reserve a car using a smart phone, which can also unlock the vehicle. Mileage is tracked and gas consumption is measured to the 1/10th gallon. When finished, the computer locks the doors for you. Billing is seamless. This allows disparately located micro-fleets, situated conveniently for different rental situations, to be controlled by one mother store. "Now the local market store is anywhere you can park five cars," said De Shon.
However, "Don't think that technology will do everything for the customer, like The Jetsons," De Shon said in closing. "Technology should be used to save time, provide consistency and allow the renter to take more control of the process. Don't overlook the unlimited potential of your personnel."