California residents are looking to visit local attractions like the Santa Monica Pier. How can you serve them? - Photo via Wikimedia Commons/web4camguy.

California residents are looking to visit local attractions like the Santa Monica Pier. How can you serve them?

In working closely with our national rental partners, it has become clear that the customer profile has dramatically changed.

Once skewed heavily toward the business traveler, rental car companies have seen a noticeable uptick in leisure travelers. This is likely largely due to the overall COVID-19 travel reduction, but we see a few other reasons for the shift as well.

What’s the Cause?

People seem to be taking back control of their own travel. Vaccinations are here, but there is still some general uneasiness about being cramped in a plane with more than 100 people you don’t know. Being able to control the car rental experience – many times through contactless means – has many people choosing a road trip over flying.

Stimulus money and stir craziness has created a perfect storm for families looking to get out of town, especially as the school year comes to a close.

And one of the more interesting reasons for the shift to leisure travel has been the increase in states allowing legalized recreational marijuana use. People looking to partake are finding it convenient to travel to these states, rent a car and visit local dispensaries.

All of these scenarios lead to unique operator challenges.

What’s the Effect?

More leisure travel has led to more reckless rental behavior. Vehicles are being neglected by customers, making them harder for your associates to clean. This leads to more sidelining of vehicles and more budget spent on reconditioning.

And the cycle continues.

Maybe you’re seeing an increase in customer odor complaints. Maybe your survey results aren’t as positive as they were pre-pandemic. It’s important to realize what is driving these customer behaviors so you can more readily improve the experience when travel really starts to pick up this summer.

What to Do About It

After clawing your way back as an operator over the past year, you’ve likely adjusted your fleet, made painful furloughs and enhanced your cleanliness efforts. And your efforts will not be in vain. Increased travel is coming as people look to you for a great rental experience. 

Troy Blackwell is chief operating officer of NuVinAir Global. - Photo courtesy of NuVinAir.

Troy Blackwell is chief operating officer of NuVinAir Global.

Photo courtesy of NuVinAir. 

These are all positive signs that validate Auto Rental News’ moniker for 2021: The Recovery Year. But are you ready for the rebirth of rental?

Here are some things our national rental partners are telling us:

They are Planning Ahead: De-fleeting became a popular buzzword for the rental industry during the early days of the pandemic. Whatever your fleet needs are now, it’s important that you start planning for the future today. If by the end of the second quarter we’re anywhere near back to normal, it’ll be an all-out race for more rental units. What’s your plan?

They Are Cleaning Deeper: It seemed like every vendor under the sun came to market with cleaning solutions and EPA-approved products in 2020. And for good reason. The importance of being able to remediate and sanitize smaller fleets is paramount. Our partners are specifically seeing issues with increased smoke, vape and marijuana odor in their vehicles. Full remediation can be difficult for some of these fly-by-night vendors. Who are your partners in this space? Do you trust their products and processes? 

They are Sticking with Contactless: “Contactless rentals” is another big 2020 buzzword carrying over into 2021. Once hard to imagine as the norm, many operators will be renting cars this way for many years to come. Have you successfully defined and implemented your contactless processes?

In a December article, Chris Brown, executive editor of Auto Rental News, said: “With a near total air travel shutdown, the Hertz and Advantage bankruptcies, an unexpectedly hot used car market, and a seismic, forced shift to local rentals, this year will enter the record books as the most disruptive in car rental’s history.”

We’re all still feeling the disruption. Yes, we are still likely in a depressed business cycle. No, it will not last forever. With each passing day, there is more hope on the horizon.

Will all of the safety pledges and sanitized stickers still be in play five years from now? Will customers still feel trepidatious about travel? No one knows for sure.

But one thing is for certain: The way you make a customer feel – whether they are a business or leisure traveler – deserves all of your attention today and in the future.

Troy Blackwell — a former auto retail executive with CarMax and AutoNation — is chief operating officer of NuVinAir Global, which offers a patented cleaning process and proprietary product line to automotive businesses across the U.S.