In 1991, we all got a big laugh out of the infamous “Seinfeld” episode, “You know how to take a reservation; you just don’t know how to hold the reservation …” Even I shamelessly recycled this clip during a keynote speech two years ago at the Car Rental Show. YouTube has allowed this to live on in virtual perpetuity.
I recently watched it again from a different perspective. The hairstyles, the clothing of Jerry and Elaine and the ridiculously large computer the rental agent used are all part of our past. What is still here? The ridicule we as an industry still face over the same problem: reservations, no-shows and the perception of the customer.
An unfortunate recent event has brought this all back to the front page of various Internet sites and news media outlets. Here we are the last bastions of a travel industry where the customer can shamelessly make multiple reservations for a single rental transaction with no penalty and no commitment, yet we are the ones portrayed as the disrespectful industry taking advantage of the consumer.
I do not need to repeat my mantra or my review of the airline and hotel industry’s evolution in the process of guaranteed reservations, prepayments and non-refundable tickets. What I do need to address is how this is continuing to become a trend that will lead to an environment of consumer abuse.
Previously, I have spoken about companies that rate, scrape and shop for better pricing and re-book the consumer. Many rental companies have stopped displaying rates on these sites, effectively ending this behavior.
The real problem is technological innovation and our ability to keep up with it. Many of us have modified the rental process to state-of-the-art technology to create a pleasant, efficient and expedited process for the consumer. These are all wonderful enhancements. But what we have not done is address these same enhancements in the reservation process.
I wish I could say the following was a hypothetical situation, but unfortunately it really happened.
On a recent trip to Phoenix, I took the shuttle bus to the ConRAC where I waited for a few friends prior to getting a car. I sat in the waiting area, opened my browser on my iPad and started to answer e-mails, thanks to the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
As I sat there, I watched a young couple (one on a tablet, the other on a smartphone) rate shop for a car. Overhearing their conversation, the story was that the line was too long for the rental company where they had a prior reservation. And instead of waiting, they were shopping for a better deal, looking for a rate from one of the other companies where no customers were lined up.
Right in front of the rental counter where they had a reserved car, this couple was going to use technology to expedite their rental process and re-book, creating a no-show for the original reserved company. This has got to stop.
We must take control of our operating costs and lower this industry’s number of no-shows.
Someone, anyone, please take the leap of faith and jump. As I have said before, one airline took the bold step to stop taking a paper MCO (miscellaneous charges order) and got paid for ticket stock as issued. One hotel chain insisted on a guaranteed reservation with a credit card. I am sure there was some short-term pain, but the long-term benefits have been enormously beneficial for both industries – and the consumer.
I encourage each of you to review your policies and procedures and come up with a set of conditions that you believe are the most beneficial for your individual business. However you do it, please implement some form of policy requiring customers to cancel a reservation if they are not going to show up.
It’s 2013. Elaine’s haircut is long out of style. So are antiquated ways of just accepting the reservation. Give us a credit card; we will hold the reservation as well.