Car Rental Cos. Eye Mtg. Deals
With many car rental suppliers aggressively courting the corporate meetings market and willing to offer a variety of incentives and discount pricing packages, meeting planners seeking to arrange such services for their events should not be afraid to shop around for the best deal, according to a leading consultant in the industry and a veteran buyer.
Buyers should "try to avoid sole-supplier strategies unless your volume cannot justify a co-supplier situation," said Kevin Iwamoto, global airline and car supplier manager for Hewlett-Packard Co. "Competition is always healthy, and by having more than one supplier, you can avoid situations where car inventory is not available."
"Planners should certainly scout the marketplace and be sure they haven't ignored rental companies that could be perfectly suitable for their needs, but who they just didn't think about," said Neil Abrams, president of Purchase, N.Y.-based Abrams Consulting Group, a specialized consulting firm that tracks the car rental industry.
Some large car rental suppliers have dedicated additional resources to attracting new corporate meetings business.
Cendant Car Rental Group brands Avis Rent A Car and Budget Rent A Car both offer "comprehensive" meetings programs via their Web sites, said vice president of sales development Barbara Kogen. "Both companies give meeting planners personalized service to help manage all of the rentals for the group, no matter how large," she said. "If the group planning the meeting happens to be one of our corporate accounts, the group will be entitled to use the lowest of the two rates, either the already contracted corporate rate or the specially established meeting rate, or discounts off promotional rates, whichever is lower at the time."
Among the benefits offered by the Cendant brands are "free rental certificates for every 20 rentals made during the year," Kogen said. "Avis and Budget allow meeting planners to negotiate a multi-meeting program, allowing them to accumulate this benefit over many meetings."
Other car rental firms use the Internet to offer standard meetings packages. National Car Rental uses its Web site to promote its On the Go meeting and convention program, while Alamo Rent A Car details the benefits of its own meeting and convention program on its site, including special rates, unlimited mileage and earned complimentary cars. Thrifty Car Rental, likewise, uses its site to "make it very easy and convenient for corporate meeting planners to contact us about rental needs in a specific meeting city," said executive director of national sales Cathy Funderburk.
The Hertz Corp. also touts its meetings program on its Web site. "The Hertz Meetings Program offers a dedicated specialist assigned to your account and provides for competitive rates and site inspection discounts," said Richard Broome, vice president of corporate affairs. "Complimentary certificates for completed rentals are awarded with as few as 20 rentals."
Not all suppliers aggressively seek corporate meetings. "Corporate meetings are a very minimal source of business for Dollar," said Nick Barron, director of sales development for Dollar Rent A Car. "For most meetings, people either fly or drive, and the meetings themselves are usually located at the actual housing site. As a result, the opportunity to rent vehicles is fairly limited. We have also found historically, when meetings are contracted, the performance rate is less than 10 percent of the projected usage. We still offer a percentage-off upon inquiry, but we don't actively pursue or solicit this type of business."
Consultant Abrams said it is important that meeting planners consider a number of factors before entering into negotiations with car rental suppliers. "There are different services, different price points provided by the major seven or eight brands, and then there is a whole slew of independent and regional companies that may, in fact, be satisfactory alternatives," he said.
"The questions concern what they really need, what types of services they require and what their budgets are," Abrams said. "Too often you find customers are paying for services that they just don't need, don't want or don't even use. Do the research, do the analysis of the demographics and needs of your group."
For example, he said, a meeting planner needs to decide if specific high-end services are necessary, or if the added expense of such premiums cannot be justified. "If you need information or reports on rental activity, sophisticated reports on days rented, costs, destinations, you need a company that has the IT architecture that can deliver that type of high-end information," Abrams said.
HP's Iwamoto agreed. "You should always know and analyze your data intimately before negotiations. Aggressive pricing, limited and advance notification of blackout dates and cities, free sell of inventory and scope of global service is what we seriously consider in selecting car suppliers, since our program is a global one," he said.
"We also like to analyze the percentage of owned locations versus franchises, as there's a potential that the franchise owner may not honor the master corporate agreement terms and rates," Iwamoto said. "You should also try to negotiate multiple-year contracts and annual rate increases in advance."
Abrams cited the rise of the Internet and the "ability for the ultimate rental customer to book the whole travel experience online" as one of the most important developments in the industry in recent years. He encouraged meeting planners to use the Internet as a resource when shopping around for services. "It's so easy today to go on Travelocity or Expedia or Orbitz or some other secondary site" to compare prices, he said.