Renting a car is certainly a different experience today. There are new cleaning protocols, a touchless rental experience, and, because of supply chain problems, higher prices and less availability. What does all of that mean for your next trip? And when will the car rental shortage end? And what to make of that new Omicron variant? I asked Chrissy Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Holdings, which owns and operates the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the Omicron variant in the last few days. How does something like that affect a car rental company? And what effect, if any, would it have on your customers?
Like others, we’re monitoring the situation and will continue to look to the global health authorities for the latest information. As new Covid-19 variants like this appear, it’s a reminder we must all remain vigilant and committed to the highest health and safety standards.
What’s the outlook for the holiday travel period for rental cars?
We continue to see increased demand for vehicles for travel throughout the U.S., and we anticipate strong demand will continue through the holiday season. Likewise, with more people on the road, we continue to see increases in those needing rentals as a temporary replacement for their personal vehicles.
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Are you seeing any other trends unfolding during the peak travel season?
Yes. We’re seeing increases in the length of rentals and demand for specialty vehicles such as vans, pickup trucks, convertibles, and large SUVs. Going into the holidays, bookings for these types of vehicles are outpacing those we saw in 2019. We also anticipate business travel to continue picking up as we get into the new year.
Business travel? Now that’s something I haven’t heard in a long time. When do you expect that to be back to pre-pandemic levels?
We know an overwhelming majority of people continue to find value in meeting with others, so we anticipate business rental travel to really begin picking up as we get further into the new year and more offices reopen. We also are encouraged to see that more and more business travelers continue to choose car rental as one of their first modes of ground transportation to get them back on the road. In fact, we are seeing an uptick in regional business travel, particularly in sectors such as construction and manufacturing. Again, we anticipate this trend to continue as more corporate offices reopen.
Related: Enterprise customer service contacts
We’re almost a year into the car rental shortage. How is it going?
Certainly, supply chain challenges — most notably, the chip shortage — have had an impact on our industry, just like they have had on many other industries. That’s happening at the same time we are seeing very high travel demand.
However, we have solid long-term relationships with our manufacturing partners, and our teams are working hard to secure additional vehicles to meet the increasing demand. We are also working closely with our insurance and business partners to support customers’ most immediate transportation needs.
How long do you think the shortage is going to last?
While the issue has generally been attributed to the chip shortage, there have been other compounding factors not in anyone’s control exacerbating the situation — factors such as weather-related shutdowns and resurgences of COVID in some markets. A major fire in a chip factory didn’t help, either. While we are optimistic going into the new year, this reinforces the complexity of the supply chain challenges.
OK, but what’s your best guess for the end of the shortage, industry-wide? Mid-2022? Later?
I really wish I had a crystal ball! We anticipate the supply challenges will continue at some level into the new year, which is why we continue to focus on doing everything we can to make the best use of our current fleet of more than 1.85 million vehicles. And because of the strong relationships we have with the vehicle manufacturers, we continue to bring in new vehicles.
How has COVID-19 changed the car rental industry? What has it meant for drivers, and specifically the customer service experience?
We always try to focus on the things we can control – taking care of our employees, customers, and business partners.
As customers return to the roads and skies, we’re excited about the possibilities for the future. Customer expectations are evolving rapidly in every industry — travel and mobility included. We’re on a journey to transform the customer experience, and the pandemic has only helped to accelerate those efforts. Our approach is rooted in bridging high customer service with high-tech digital capabilities.
What are customers telling you they want from car rental in the future?
Customers have told us they want more personalized, frictionless experiences, which put them firmly in control. By listening to our customers and employees, as well as leveraging new technology, we’re confident we’ll continue to deliver the experience they want.
You rolled out a Complete Clean Pledge after the pandemic and recently expanded it. What is the pledge, and what kind of adjustments did you make?
Building consumer confidence is, and will continue to be, critical for all of us in the travel industry. Our Complete Clean Pledge is a good example. It’s our long-term commitment to industry-leading health and safety practices throughout all of our operations, including our vehicles, branch locations and shuttles.
Then, building on our Complete Clean Pledge, we added a collaboration with Clorox as an additional way to bring extra peace of mind and confidence to our customers. We also became a member of the Clorox Safer Today Travel Alliance, a program spearheaded by Clorox in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic and the CDC Foundation. So we are excited to be a part of these exciting collaborations and to work with these experts.
Some travelers tell me that they thought the vehicles were already being cleaned to these high standards and were disappointed when they found out they weren’t. Others say programs like the Complete Car Pledge are just PR, meant to reassure customers that the vehicles are safe. How would you respond to those customers?
This is not PR or something new for us – we have always been committed to maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness in the industry. But, with the pandemic, customers have an even greater desire to feel confident in their vehicle’s cleanliness. That’s why we developed and launched the Complete Clean Pledge – to build on our already rigorous cleaning and safety protocols. This includes our collaboration with Clorox, where customers now find a one-count Clorox Disinfecting Wipe in every rental vehicle to help provide that extra peace of mind.
Enterprise recently expanded its connected car initiative. How will having a connected fleet help Enterprise, and how will it benefit your customers?
Yes – it’s very exciting. We are working with Microsoft to bring connected car technology to all of our rental vehicles, ultimately streamlining the rental process for our customers and creating efficiencies within our business.
For our customers, connected cars can streamline tasks such as checking fuel levels and odometer readings, improving the check-in and checkout process. This is just the early stages of what we know is possible with this technology, and we anticipate as many as 350,000 of our vehicles will be connected by the end of the year with a goal of fully converting the entire Enterprise Holdings fleet to connected vehicles in the next five years.
I hear you are planning to add more EVs to your fleet. Can you tell me about that?
We embrace the responsibility to transition our fleet to EVs and we are committed to doing so in a thoughtful way. For us, it’s not just about adding large numbers of EVs, but on working with industry partners and stakeholders to drive the long-term viability of EVs in the market.
Specifically, our EV strategy is focused on providing a great customer experience, as well as partnering and investing purposefully to learn and grow for the long term. Many consumers use rentals as an opportunity to test new technologies and vehicles, which is great. We want to make sure we can help build their awareness and understanding of this technology and deliver a great experience.
On the flip side, our research shows the top three reasons for not renting an EV are few charging stations, range anxiety, and charge times being too long. This reinforces the need to address these challenges holistically.
We’ve recently rolled out thousands of EVs throughout the U.S., providing them to our employees as well as putting them into our rental fleet in select markets so we can further test them. This is helping us to better understand the overall experience related to charging, range, and our operational needs so we can provide the best possible experience for our customers as we transition our fleet over the coming years. I’m driving one myself and loving it!
How long before we can rent a self-driving car from Enterprise?
That’s a great question! We are well positioned to help build consumer awareness of new mobility and vehicle technologies. In the near-term that is a focus on technologies like EVs … longer term it’s certainly the potential for autonomous vehicles.
One of the most common complaints that we get involves cleaning charges for drivers who allegedly smoke in their vehicles. What does Enterprise have to say on that topic?
Through our Complete Clean Pledge, we are doing everything we can to keep our vehicles clean, safe and on the road – available for our customers. Smoking is not allowed in our vehicles. While we hope customers follow the rules, we recognize this does not always happen, and therefore through our cleaning processes, we work hard to remove any damaging odor left in our vehicles.
Readers often ask me about insurance and rental cars. Can you help me understand how car rental insurance is better than the coverage on your auto or travel insurance? Who should consider insurance coverage offered by a company like Enterprise? Who shouldn’t?
It’s not an issue of it being better or not. It’s more about the customer understanding what his or her insurance or credit cards might cover and if it transfers to a rental vehicle. We always encourage customers to know what coverage they have before they rent. And that’s also why we offer optional protection packages, to ensure the customer has choice and the amount of coverage he or she might need or want.
What’s your advice for customers who are thinking of renting a car for the holidays?
Reserving a vehicle as early as possible for future travel is critical right now. The good news is that we’ve seen customers’ heeding the suggestion to book early, as advanced reservations are up compared to 2019.