In a commoditized industry, smaller rental companies need an edge to compete with the majors, even in their local markets. Thankfully, new technology is emerging to level the playing field.
Michael Youssef, CEO and president of Rent Centric, explains the new marketing mindset that smaller rental companies need to adopt to stay current and the tech tools to get them there.
Make You the Expert
What draws people to your area: an annual convention, a popular summer concert venue, a ski resort or a sporting event?
It makes sense to position your company not only as a transportation provider for these experiences, but also as a subject matter expert. “You’re not necessarily trying to reach someone who wants to rent a car,” says Youssef. “You’re trying to get to someone who is searching about the event.”
Your message can take a variety of forms, from a single Web page (microsite) to a larger, more interactive site with advice, maps and perhaps a link to discounted tickets.
Aligning your brand with an experience gives potential customers a reason to consider your services over the major brands and not based on price alone. “You want to remind them of their potential need for car rental and that you’re the expert at servicing this particular need for this particular event,” Youssef says.
A Mini GDS
From body shops, event planners and hotel concierges, you’ve grown a strong local affiliate network. What if you could enable this network to make reservations on your system, without picking up the phone?
One scenario that Rent Centric offers is a “widget” that embeds on an affiliate’s website, allowing users on the affiliate’s site to access inventory and rates, choose location and time and send credit card information. The widget links directly to the Rent Centric system at the rental company.
A more robust integration allows affiliates to offer a white-label product from behind the counter. Affiliates are allowed to have access to the system, with permissions, to have their own corporate rates (and manage their commission percentages) and to combine the car rental with a travel package. “This allows you to create a free ‘mini global distribution system’ based on your relationships,” Youssef says.
Cars on Demand
What if rental vehicles could be placed where renters need them — say, a body shop, train station, hotel or IKEA parking lot — and rented on the spot through a smartphone?
While this “self-service car rental” may summon thoughts of traditional car sharing, in the latter model users must register and go through a verification process to become members of a program and then wait for a card in the mail that allows access to the vehicles. “[Traditional car share] is not a quick-service opportunity,” Youssef says.
The technology to enable self-service car rental is similar to Rent Centric’s car-sharing system offering, though its model includes a more complex Web app for the verification process and on-demand vehicle access. The system interfaces with a traditional car rental management system.
The mere placement of the car in a high traffic area with the rental company’s branding becomes an effective marketing tool. “[The car] is right there, before anyone needs to search the Internet,” Youssef says. “The marketing value here is like that of a butler, ready to give you service when it’s needed.”
EagleRider, a motorcycle rental and tour company, garners business from many domestic and international travel agents and tour operators. EagleRider can offer these affiliates a simple code snippet that appears as an interface on their websites.
This essentially creates a white-label booking engine that allows affiliates’ users to reserve a motorcycle as if they were doing so directly on the affiliates’ sites, says Hal Oreif, chief technology and product officer for EagleRider.
For more in-depth, enterprise integration, EagleRider affiliates can use its application programming interface (API) with flexible Open Travel Alliance (OTA) XML for a more customized booking. Integrated through Rent Centric, the API pulls EagleRider’s real-time rates and inventory and displays them on affiliates’ systems or websites.
Moreover, the API also allows affiliates to use their special rates based on their markets, as well as combine the motorcycle bookings with other products such as car rentals and hotels, Oreif says.