Car rental is probably one of the most maligned businesses within the travel industry due to the complexity of markets, government regulations, currency, insurance, competition and the high value of each moving asset.

Although many things have changed in 50 years, one fundamental principle has remained within the car rental sector — the desire to deliver great customer service while remaining profitable.

Given the wide ranging concepts of today’s technology, it is difficult to comprehend that in 1970 Pan Am and TWA began bringing many first-time American travelers to Europe in Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jets.”

This article originally appeared in our inaugural Auto Rental News International digital edition, covering the European rental market. To access our current International edition covering Latin America, click here

All bookings came through the highly regarded professional travel agent. Using an airline computer reservation system (CRS), these agents were still handwriting airline tickets, and most bookings arrived to car rental companies via teletext.

All this was happening while the Berlin Wall was still standing, the euro was still to be invented, and it would be another 24 years before the Channel Tunnel opened.

In the early days of trans-Atlantic travel, car rental was sold as an auxiliary service via the airline prior to the emergence of Global Distribution Systems (GDS), which were originally formed through airline alliances.

The car rental industry saw the potential for increased business in Europe, but it also saw the need to reflect on the issues caused by the lack of information being provided to the customer, the variances that made renting a car in Europe more complex than North America and consequently the potential risks of failing to achieve customer satisfaction.

Informing the Customer

Therefore, the car rental industry in Europe decided to respond positively to the opportunity and began to give more attention to informing its customers on terms and conditions, damage waivers and other key elements of renting a car. This became a major force to avoid damaging its reputation through business received via “bucket shops” (wholesalers) and unsolicited, enthusiastic “rate shopping.”

In the late 1980s, the major car rental companies sought approval from the soon-to-be European Union countries to form an association that was to deliver standards for the car rental industry in Europe for bookings made through automated distribution systems — essentially to avoid misleading information and provide the consumer with an informed choice.

Given that more business was emerging through GDS channels, it became crucial to the basic principles of delivering great service and maintaining a healthy and profitable business.

Hence the Association of Car Rental Industry Systems Standards (ACRISS) was created. More than 20 years later, its members work together with GDS associates and others to ensure that all members are compliant with the codes developed, which form the central core of the ACRISS Code of Conduct.

Consumers are now better informed as the opportunities for travel and competition grow. We no longer have to worry that a family of four doesn’t understand why their baggage does not fit into the trunk of that really great value Volkswagen Beetle!

Work does not stop in ACRISS, even though members’ resources are stretched. Given the saturation of automated booking possibilities, the association is constantly seeking appropriate standards that help its members achieve great customer service — no matter what the source of the booking.

For further information, visit or contact the secretariat via or +44(0)1323 508093.

About the Author

Diane Clancy is a veteran of the European car rental industry and secretariat of ACRISS.