My first reaction to this year’s Car Rental Show (CRS) is “Whew!” In my years associated with CRS, I don’t remember our staff working as hard as they did this year.
It wasn’t too long ago that CRS started with the keynote presentation on Monday at 1 p.m. and ended on Tuesday after the reception in the exhibit hall. We’ve expanded not only to Sunday afternoon and evening and through Monday morning, but also to Wednesday with programming to specific groups, such as this year’s Latin American operators’ meeting.
It was a maelstrom, but a good maelstrom. The energy was fantastic. Here are some more random observations:
- The Car Rental Show is as strong as it’s ever been — and this is a good sign for the health of the North American market.
You’d think with all the buyouts and consolidations in the last few years that CRS attendance from our core audience of franchises and independents would’ve eroded, but that’s not the case. In fact, we have actually doubled total registrations from 2009, when we had 400 attendees, to more than 800 at this year’s show. And our exhibit hall has close to twice as many booths today than it did five years ago.
In this time, the American Car Rental Association’s (ACRA) membership has grown. too. Some 200 car rental operators are now ACRA members — including the major car rental companies — and 120 new members have signed up since Sharon Faulkner took over in late 2010.
That means the operators who persevered through consolidation and the Recession are thriving. What’s more, the healthy market has allowed new franchise players to step in such as Sixt and now Green Motion.
I was also surprised, yet gratified, to meet two city managers from corporate companies who separately decided to come to CRS on their own dime, because they wanted to expand their industry knowledge past their companies’ borders. Bravo!
- Latin America and Asia are still growing.
We’re drawing more and more attendees from Latin America and Asia. Last year, we hosted a delegation of 12 representatives from car rental companies in China. This year, the delegation brought 27.
We welcomed a group of 13 car rental operators from South Korea, our biggest contingent yet from that country, along with the director of the Seoul Car Rental Association. Although Japan isn’t necessarily a growth market, we hosted five executives from Nippon Rent-A-Car, the third largest car rental company in Japan. We haven’t had attendance from any Japanese companies in many years.
From Latin America, we drew attendees from Mexico down to Argentina and throughout the Caribbean.
This year, we offered a block of seminars on Wednesday to address the specific needs of Latin American operators. Judging from the feedback, we’ll be offering this meeting again.
The growth in Latin America is embodied in Javier Gonzalez Garcia, who runs Turismo Gargo, a Fox affiliate, in Mexico. Garcia brought a team of five from his company and presented at the Latin American meeting. Using sophisticated rate management techniques, social media, cutting-edge web development and local business-to-business marketing tactics, Turismo Gargo has grown from two locations to 14 in less than five years.
The growth of the Chinese car rental market is breathtaking and at the same time hard to wrap your head around. I did more explaining of our market to the Chinese than I got a chance to understand theirs, but their desire to soak up absolutely everything about the North American market was overwhelming. Our market took 50 years to grow to its present size and maturity; theirs will take 10 — you can bet on that.
- The tech startups have found car rental.
This year, more than any, I was impressed with the entrepreneurial nature of the exhibitors, especially those addressing car rental issues with technology. It’s great to see the tech startups in the space.
Keep an eye out for companies such as Transfercar, an Australian-based rental car transfer system, and JumpDrive, a plug-and-play device that not only meters fuel precisely but also your renters’ driving behavior. Damage ID, a mobile app created by the folks at VERC Car Rental (now a Sixt franchisee), uses cellphone camera photos to record and track damage. Metavera isn’t new, but it’s front and center in addressing automation in car rental and car sharing.
There seems to be more and more vendors that are looking at car rental as a potential market for their business, such as high-tech locksmiths and Elio Motors, an independent manufacturer of a three-wheeled vehicle with a jet-fighter like tandem cockpit. Whether or not the rental public takes to the Elio, it surely would stand out on a rental lot.
The amount of technology and data available to a car rental operator today is overwhelming — but you don’t have to be a large company to harness it and gain a market advantage.
- It’s a mobile world.
In his keynote address, Pat Farrell of Enterprise Holdings referenced some key statistics on the world’s evolution to mobile technology: one — that the growth in cellular usage for AT&T had increased 20,000% in the previous five years; two — that consumer booking on mobile technology will grow from around 5% in 2012 to 25% by the end of 2015.
It is crucial for the car rental industry to understand the power of mobile, especially as its customers are able to check competitors’ rates and availability while stuck in a long line at a rental counter.
But mobile isn’t just about booking a reservation on a phone. Those tech-based solutions solve operational issues, too — from using mobile apps to sell cars, marketing using QR codes, streamlining the rental return and identifying, estimating and billing reconditioning work.
- The economy is no longer the prime worry.
In our coverage of the show, we regularly survey attendees on their business challenges and “what keeps them up at night.” While issues such as recruiting Generation Y, managing depreciation and preventing fraud are big worries, no one mentioned the economy.
“There is a healthier climate from years past and much less negativity when discussing the future of car rental,” says Sharon Faulkner, executive director of ACRA. “The seriousness about learning about the industry is still there, but the angst seems to have dissipated.”
We look forward to next year’s Car Rental Show, April 13-14 at Bally’s Las Vegas. Get ready for an even bigger storm.