When Disaster Strikes, Will Your Car Rental Company Be Ready?

When tragedy hits, people instinctively look to see that their loved ones are safe. Recently, when hurricanes Gustav and Ike were forecasted to hit landfall in southern Louisiana, more than 50 parents of Tulane University students phoned into a local Enterprise Rent-A-Car location in an attempt to get their kids out of harm’s way.

The parents were concerned that their minor children would be unable to rent a car. Thankfully, Enterprise does indeed rent to Tulane students who are under 21 years old.

“The many parents I spoke to were relieved and made a reservation for their kid to rent a car and get out of the area,” said Rich Hemphill, area manager, downtown New Orleans. “The students were all grateful and patient and we truly were their saving grace.”

In another instance, on the rainy and windy morning before the Gustav hit southern Louisiana, Enterprise customer Kendra Silve was having mechanical problems with her rental minivan—it wouldn’t go over 10 mph. Enterprise management trainee Delvin Robinson drove 30 minutes to meet Silve at her house with a replacement vehicle.

Enterprise then arranged for a tow truck to take the malfunctioning rental car and Robinson back to high ground safely.

Stepping Up Communication
From the minute a potentially-catastrophic storm is forecasted through to the aftermath, RACs say communication is the absolute key. Quality communication with customers, employees and corporate offices can make a huge difference when disaster strikes.

To keep everyone abreast of what’s going on, Dollar Thrifty sends out satellite phones to pivot points around the affected area. The company immediately organizes a conference call with the human resources department, customer service department and all operations employees that could possibly be in the storm’s path.

“We get that group together and talk about rate management—we obviously don’t want to be gouging customers in need,” said Mike Souza, staff vice president, corporate operations for Dollar Thrifty. “In the affected area we’ll tell everyone to remove one-way fees and other costs associated with returning cars either late or early.”

Dollar Thrifty removes the one-way fee because often in situations like these, rental customers have fewer choices of what to do. For instance, if a family is on vacation and there’s a major storm, they may have to drive to another airport to fly home. That family would normally be hit with a one-way fee.

In the wake of hurricane Ike, people all over Texas were waiting in line for gasoline for hours and paying sky-high prices. To compensate, Dollar Thrifty dropped its standard $6.99 per-gallon refueling charge down to the average pump price of about $4 per gallon. Also, immediately following the storms, many RACs froze rates in the affected areas.

To further enhance communication, Dollar Thrifty also has its corporate communications department send out email blasts to affected employees. The car rental company has an “Are you OK?” emergency phone line set up to keep employees updated with information such as airport reopenings.

When a storm appears to be headed toward a rental location, Enterprise jumps into action. A week before hurricane Gustav hit landfall, New Orleans-area location managers commenced daily conference calls with St. Louis headquarters. As the storm approached, an additional daily conference call began to establish how each branch would close down in the event of a mandatory evacuation.

“We learned a lot from Katrina here,” says Kurt Klebe, vice president of New Orleans Enterprise. “This time we made sure we had a good phone tree in place that accounted for every employee. We wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees.”

When areas of southern Louisiana were placed under mandatory evacuation, Enterprise closed those stores and had the phones forwarded to the nearest location out of the storm’s path. This way, customers can still get information as to where to return or rent cars.

CONTINUED:  When Disaster Strikes, Will Your Car Rental Company Be Ready?
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