As we began to grasp the enormity of the pandemic, it became clear that an in-person ICRS would not be feasible or advisable. - Photo via Pixabay.

As we began to grasp the enormity of the pandemic, it became clear that an in-person ICRS would not be feasible or advisable.

Photo via Pixabay.

We may look back at the beginning of March 2020 in the way we’ve processed other cataclysmic world events, from the assassinations of presidents to Pearl Harbor and the shock of watching the Twin Towers collapse. 

Yet this global pandemic didn’t happen in one day, it befell us over the course of a few weeks — when the world seemed to teeter on its axis and then spin out of control. Reports from a province in China spread to South Korea and Italy, and all too suddenly there were scenes in the U.S. of relatives pressing their hands up against windows outside of nursing homes.

I’ll admit, I didn’t have the prescience to grasp what was really happening then. Personally, I’m blessed that no one close to me — so far — has died from COVID-19. Though as a society we haven’t begun to fully process the 211,000 deaths and counting. 

We were still traveling then, remarkably, as the virus permeated. I remember a business trip near the end of February in which organizers took to the microphones to announce the many speakers who had cancelled due to travel restrictions. I traveled again in the first week of March, and at that convention we jovially elbow-bumped but continued as usual, not a mask in sight. 

In retrospect, my attitude was selfish. My neighbor, a doctor, wouldn’t allow my kids on a playdate with hers — are you kidding me? But my nagging notion was that the International Car Rental Show (ICRS), scheduled for March 22, would have to be postponed. (Cancellation was not in our lexicon.) 

In the second week of March, there was a window of scrambling. When ICRS speakers pulled out, we found replacements. We gut-checked with exhibitors and sponsors. We felt we had a contingency plan that could’ve worked.  

In retrospect, there was no way in hell an in-person convention should’ve happened in the third week in March, or this year at all. Ultimately, it was an easy decision to postpone, owing to the chaos of world events. 

That said, it was a tough blow. I’ve stood on the stage in Vegas more than once and said, “Meeting old friends and making new ones, the Car Rental Show is like my work Christmas.”

We were on track for the show’s best year yet. I was proud of the agenda, the subject matter experts that would take the stage, the collaborations with exhibitors, and our ongoing partnership with the American Car Rental Association. Our circus tent was expanding as we explored new ways to deliver personal transportation options. 

Moving into April and May, we held out hope for an in-person ICRS later in the year. But as we began to grasp the enormity of the pandemic, it became clear that would not be feasible or advisable. 

I left my office on March 10 and haven’t been back since. Yet over the last seven months in my converted garage office, I have connected with old contacts and made new relationships in the car rental, transportation, and mobility sectors in ways I haven’t in my career. 

In talking to car rental operators, I’ve been moved by their personal and business stories, their ingenuity to meet new business challenges, and how they’ve shared their time and resources beyond the bounds of business as usual. 

There’s the U-Save operator who used his single-engine plane to fly PPEs to medical and essential workers in the Northeast; the San Francisco-based van rental service that supplied free vehicles to a local police department for supply transfers, and the break-of-dawn runs by the Tampa ACE affiliate to score sanitizer for giveaways to customers while sharing the surplus with her next-door competitor.

And then there’s the owner of the van rental service in Utah who wrote in May that he wasn’t sure his business would survive. About 10% of independent car rental operators had shut their doors permanently; I thought he might be next. I told him to stay in touch. 

In these times of extreme economic distress, we all need to connect. We need to share battle stories, but most importantly, we need to share resources, best practices, and market intelligence now more than ever. 

With this in mind, we’re convening an online event, a virtual version of the International Car Rental Show called ICRS Experience. It takes place Oct. 19 to 23. 

Other than the obvious move to a virtual format, the ICRS Experience differs from its in-person counterpart in one (main) way: The focus is squarely on offering insights and solutions on how the car rental industry can survive and prevail through the pandemic recovery and beyond. 

The sessions are live, with interactive Q&A. You don’t have to take in a week’s worth of seminars all at once; they’ll be available on-demand for a year. You can register here

Think of it as your gathering place to gain the tools to get you through to the other side, a place to make your voice heard and learn from others. 

The owner of that Utah van rental company did reach back out to me. Instead of closing his doors, he used the pandemic as his wakeup call. He wrote that he created his own contactless delivery solution and closed the summer as his best one yet. 

Our reality right now is that we don’t know what next year looks like, let alone a few months into the future. Like the Utah van rental company, we do know that businesses willing to evolve will be able to meet the needs of tomorrow’s travelers, while those choosing to stay put won’t survive. And we know it won’t be easy. 

Trust me: ICRS will happen again in person. For right now, I hope you’ll join us at ICRS Experience. After all, how are we going to figure out how to get through this pandemic if we don’t do it together?

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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