Today was the first day of the ICRS Experience and I’m exhausted and exhilarated, even though I didn’t have to leave the quiet confines of my garage office. Nothing will replace the in-person International Car Rental Show, but the virtual world does allow one to download a lot of information and interact with colleagues as efficiently as possible.
If you’re not registered for ICRS Experience, of course there’s still time, we’ve got four more days of programming. And if you miss any seminars, they’re available on-demand to registrants for one year.
Jennifer Corwin and Michael Taylor of J.D. Power started the day off with some surprising facts about car rental. Did you know that of all the surveys J.D. Power deploys in the travel spectrum — that includes hotels, airlines, and cruises — that car rental has the highest rated satisfaction?
Along with the 25th anniversary of ICRS, J.D. Power is also celebrating the silver anniversary of the North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study. The gap between the highest rated car rental company and the lowest has been 32 and 34 points for the last two years, which is extraordinarily narrow across J.D. Power’s surveys.
This year’s study is based on responses gathered from September 2019 through August 2020. It caught six months of the coronavirus pandemic, though experiencing an obvious drop off of responses during that time. That said, overall satisfaction was statistically flat to last year’s record setting performance, a surprising win for car rental.
This year, J.D. Power was able to layer into its traditional satisfaction benchmarks renters’ feedback regarding the coronavirus. While car rental companies saw an increase since 2016 in its overall cleanliness score, this year was virtually flat from the 2019 peak. However, Corwin referenced a greater opportunity to communicate cleanliness to alleviate renters’ concerns.
She mentioned hotels aggressive “commitment to cleanliness” campaigns and said hotel guests are more likely to be aware of that message, so car rental could amplify its efforts here.
J.D. Power was able to query 60,000 airport travelers to ascertain their concerns over contracting COVID-19. In terms of rating the part of the travel experience in which they’re most concerned, onboard aircraft scored the highest in concern at 37%; cabs, rideshare, and trains scored 13%; while car rental was at 2%.
The survey results noted the relative lack of concern in contracting COVID-19 from rentals cars as control of personal space, lack of forced interaction with strangers, controlled entry of unfamiliar persons, knowing the history of the space, and a limited space that needs disinfection.
“The rental car experience is inherently socially distant,” Taylor said, which needs to be communicated as an advantage.
One surefire way car rental and other parts of travel can allay customers’ concerns is to communicate that your business requires masks — for customers, frontline staff, and anyone that walks onto the property. This outdistanced other recommendations by a factor of three, Corwin said.
During the American Car Rental Association town hall and legislative update, ACRA President Sharky Laguana said “If you’re watching this, you’re already a legendary survivor of the most disruptive event in our business lifetimes. It’s indicative of a membership that is extraordinary. If you’ve made it this far, there’s no reason you can’t make it the rest of the way. Next year, the opportunity will never be greater, and the danger will never be greater.”
With that, Laguana outlined ACRA’s strategic plan, which entails doubling down on federal, state, and local government relations; expanding virtual trade association meetings, seminars, and workshops; and drafting, training, and deploying an ACRA lobbying army.
Intrinsic to this plan is the waiving of membership fees for 2021 for ACRA regular members with 399 or fewer vehicles. But this isn’t a waiver of member action, Laguana noted. ACRA needs its constituents to enhance its lobbying, expand beyond the “Big 3,” and generally show up to have their voices heard.
Gordon Reel, ACRA’s secretary, and Greg Scott, ACRA’s lobbyist, then outlined the 2020 legislative landscape.
During the beginning of the crisis, ACRA successfully worked to get the car rental industry as “essential,” augmented liquidity measures into early business relief legislation, managed to win some relief from airport concessionaire guarantees, gained leeway on suspended plates and registrations due to DMV shutdowns, and achieved federal and state tax deferrals.
Post COVID-19, the association is looking to enact peer-to-peer legislation regarding insurance, taxes, and airport access in various states and jurisdictions. ACRA will continue to look for expanded liquidity measures in the next round of paycheck protection legislation, further airport rent abatement and MAG relief, and lobby for a cleaning tax credit and liability relief.
In RateGain’s pricing strategies seminar, Ankit Chaturvedi and Anup Dhiraj outlined data that revealed the green shoots of recovery. Commercial airline flights won’t start to recover until March 2021, and in the meantime, it will be hard to do revenue planning on fluctuating passenger loads.
Dhiraj did note that the year-over-year gap between average number of travel booking searches had been substantial at the beginning of the pandemic — a drop of 60% in April compared to last year — yet this deficit has narrowed to 36% in September.
Travelers are no longer booking in advance; they’re booking much closer to travel. The average booking window has shrunk to three to seven days. Luckily, cancellations have shrunk as a result.
As international travel is on hold, the domestic segment is the bread and butter in the U.S. Domestic future bookings of both airlines and hotels have recovered somewhat, particularly after the new year. “When you get to December, take a closer look on how you’re positioned for January,” Dhiraj said.
In terms of U.S. pricing, RateGain analyzed rates across all rental types for pickups from Oct. 15, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2021. While pricing was 10% lower during this period at airports, pricing in the local market was 25% higher, though on low to moderate overall demand that matches reduced fleet sizes.
Finally, David Purinton of PurCo, who has essentially “carried the water” for the car rental industry in fighting off legal challenges to the Graves Amendment, made it clear that the coronavirus pandemic will not change the importance of revisiting contract language to ensure Graves’ protections.
See you for Day 2, it’s going to be quite a week.