While station wagons have given way to the full-size SUV and minivan, the interest in launching...

While station wagons have given way to the full-size SUV and minivan, the interest in launching back into leisure travel for the average family has centered around the idea of a road trip.

Photo via Depositphotos.

One common prediction for the upcoming summer and fall seasons that has continued to gain traction in mainstream coverage and in personal conversations surrounds how we will all start to travel again. The return of the Great American Road Trip has been heralded far and wide, with many reminiscing of piling into the family station wagon and heading for the great outdoors. 

While station wagons have given way to the full-size SUV and minivan, the interest in launching back into leisure travel for the average family has centered around the idea of a road trip. This is not just limited to the United States: Domestic travelers and local residents are the new target demographics worldwide for destination marketing organizations and travel companies. 

As a car rental operator, how should you prepare not only to be properly positioned for this growing trend, but also to protect your fleet?

Changing Local Renter

Your previous policies that covered local renters in a generic sense may have to be adjusted to align with customer expectations. While before you may have required two proofs of residence and a major credit card to get a local renter into a replacement vehicle, now you may have to categorize the road trip local renter more like an airport leisure customer. 

Most of the newly interested road trip customers will be replacing their normal flight and car rental trips with a car rental road trip. They’re therefore likely not accustomed to the local renter process. 

While insurance coverage should still be fully vetted and deposits considered in full, you may consider waiving other normal local renter qualifications.

Road Trip Friendly Fleet 

It is vital to match the appropriate fleet with the road trip renter. Your strategy may include allowing you’re risk fleet to accumulate some additional miles or renting out your leased inventory that has been idle for some time and has room to gain some extra miles. 

In any case, be sure to coordinate with your fleet manager and counter personnel which units are more suited for the road trip customer. It may still be in your interest to include some sort of mileage cap to protect your fleet. 

Be sure to work with the individual renter to understand their expected trip and usage so that there is no confusion upon their return. Further, if your rental agreement or policies normally include geographical limitations, be sure that your team has reviewed that language and made all appropriate accommodations while maintaining any needed restrictions (like country border crossings).

Changing Strategies

Now that you have policies, procedures, and fleet aligned strategically for the road trip customer, it is time to focus your pricing and distribution to attract this clientele. 

First, seek to optimize your long weekend rental rates, either as weekend rates or attractive daily rates over that period. Some travelers will first seek to take shorter trips over the weekend to escape what has become their new normal routines. 

Second, pay attention to longer length of rental options, beyond the normal one to seven days. Some customers may be looking for a longer stay at a vacation home in a nearby state or city. These longer rentals may end up being more attractive by improving your overall utilization and keeping the average miles per day lower. 

After optimizing your price positioning, reach out to your distribution partners to learn if they are promoting any road trip specials, contests, or campaigns. Perhaps you can provide a special promo code that provides a discount and affords your inventory prime positioning on distribution networks. 

And, produce and provide expert road trip content ideas from your source market. Publish these ideas to your own website properties and social networks and provide them to third parties for further distribution. 

Green Shoots

Will road trip renters completely fill the gap left by traditional leisure renters and business travelers? No. But as one of the first predicted green shoots of the travel industry recovery in the coming months, it is vital to prepare your operations, fleet, and marketing to be ready for these rentals as we all await the eventual return of leisure and business travelers. 

At AutoRentals.com, we have seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of searches requested and bookings made where the renter’s pickup location and home address are in close proximity — which points to the growing demand of road trip rentals and other local renter usages. 

It will take some time before any sense of normalcy returns to the car rental industry, but in the meantime, let’s all welcome back the Great American Road Trip.

Charles Graham is vice president, sales, and marketing at autorentals.com. He is an 18-year car rental industry veteran with experience in distribution, marketing, revenue management, and operations.  

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