Sure, the 2016 International Car Rental Show (ICRS) — convened April 18 and 19 at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas — was the industry’s usual convocation to make new connections and reconnect with the old ones, share best practices, and understand new products and services. But this year felt different.
With some big issues on the industry’s plate, ICRS has evolved into an essential forum to hash out those issues and formulate solutions.
Attendees traveled from 36 U.S. states and approximately 30 countries, including China, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, U.K., and India. This year’s show included special events for international attendees, including an international meet-and-greet networking session and the first meeting of association directors from around the world.
The event kicked off on April 17 with an evening cocktail reception, now an ICRS tradition. During the two-day event, attendees had several opportunities to spend time in the expanded exhibit hall, which featured exhibitors offering various services and products for the car rental industry.
The Big Issues
On Monday morning, the show kicked off with a keynote panel of representatives from car rental and travel platforms. Titled “State of the Industry: The Aggregators’ View,” the panel consisted of Imad Khalidi, CEO of Auto Europe; Bobby Healy, chief technology officer of CarTrawler; and Steve Matise, global head of supplier management for Travelport.
“We consider ourselves an intermediary between the car rental companies and the consumer,” said Khalidi. “We brokers need to bring incremental business to the car rental companies with the right product at the right price, the right moment, and the right location.”
The panelists also discussed the relationship between rental car prices and customer service.
“Through our system, 62% of the cars that are rented aren’t the cheapest prices,” Healy said. “Price only affects a small part of the business; it really comes down to quality score. No amount of low pricing fixes a bad score.”
The American Car Rental Association’s general session covered specifics of the new recall legislation that passed as part of the 2015 transportation bill. Additionally, the session featured Bob Kolasky of the Department of Homeland Security, who discussed threats of terrorism and how rental car employees can educate themselves on suspicious activity.
“Terrorists have used rental cars as a means to go out and attempt terrorist activities,” said Kolasky. “Train your employees to report suspicious activity — such as someone providing multiple names on paperwork or using cash for large transactions, or if a vehicle is returned with unusual burn marks or odor.”
During Tuesday’s breakfast seminar, Peter Smith, Enterprise Holdings' vice president of global franchising, discussed the company’s global expansion efforts. Since 2012, Enterprise has expanded its brands to more than 75 countries through franchising, acquisition, and investment.
Referencing China, Australia, and New Zealand as markets Enterprise has entered recently through partnerships or franchising, Smith said the company is focusing on the Asia-Pacific region for growth, with an eye to expand into Africa in the future. “Our map is pretty full, but we still have a ways to go.”
Concurrent sessions featured various topics, including how to grow business-to-business rentals, how to use Graves Amendment to lower liability expense, tips for improving online marketing and phone sales, and how to motivate millennials in the workplace.
The seminar, “The Recall Law Is Law — What Now?” dove into how the new law will impact rental car operations. Panelists offered best practices on compliance and operational and customer service challenges.
“The biggest burden we have right now is having to open 638 pieces of mail (recall notifications from NHTSA) to find out that 330 of them are for vehicles we no longer own,” said Mike DeLorenzo, executive vice president of International Franchise Systems.
“If you’re just checking the NHTSA database once a week or once a month, I guarantee you’re going to miss recalls,” said Ross MacDonald, chief marketing officer for AutoAp. “The sooner you know the status of a recall, the sooner you can get in line with the authorized franchised dealer to get it repaired.”
“Don’t think that just because you’re a little guy that you don’t have any influence,” DeLorenzo said, referencing how even the small car dealerships have strong relationships with legislators. “You need to get involved in the process. I think our industry, we haven’t done that. We’re seeing the consequences of not being involved with our legislators from long ago.”
Designed for car rental operators serving Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, the third annual Latin American meeting was held on Monday April 18.
It featured seven seminars covering issues facing the Latin American market today, including trends on booking cars through online travel agencies and brokers, how to strengthen standards for the market, maintaining employee engagement, and the investors’ view of the Latin American car rental market.
The show also featured a day of programming for another niche audience: auto dealers looking to strengthen their loaner programs. Opening with a view of the loaner market from representatives of four auto manufacturers, seminars covered topics such as tips for managing your rental and loaner business, how to develop a unique brand identity, and insight into the legal questions facing dealer rental programs.
Connected Car is Coming
The show concluded with a session focused on the future of transportation: connected car technology. Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is working with stakeholders to implement this connectivity.
Egan Smith, managing director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, addressed the impact of the connected car on the car rental industry in the U.S. and globally, as well as government mandates for implementation and pilot deployment programs.
A connected vehicle talks to other connected vehicles and advanced roadside infrastructure such as traffic signals as quickly as 10 times per second.
“Connected vehicles have the potential to reduce non-impaired crash scenarios by 80%,” said Smith. “It provides 360-degree awareness with a range of 300 meters.”
The 2017 International Car Rental Show will be held March 27-29 at Bally’s Hotel and Casino.