The business cards, notes, collateral and giveaways collect in a small mountain on my desk. There's a year's worth of information in that pile picked up in two days at the Car Rental Show (CRS) in Las Vegas.
Attendance was up - substantially. It was exciting to see people lining the walls of that cavernous hall to hear Larry De Shon's opening keynote address. It was the same with the breakout sessions - we ended up taking out the tables to fit more people.
There was a renewed energy at this year's show that I hadn't felt in years. I've only been covering the industry as editor of Auto Rental News since 2006, so I only have a small window of comparison. But the feedback from the old guard was that this show felt like the pre-9/11 days, when it was truly an industry "event." Indeed, CRS has been, and still is, the only event that represents the entire car rental industry. But this year there is proof that CRS is growing beyond an independent and licensee-only affair into one in which the majors, corporates, entrepreneurs, large independents, franchisees, affiliates and mom-and-pop shops are getting together in one place to take the pulse of the industry, gain consensus and set direction.
This year we saw the greater corporate presence of Avis Budget, Dollar Thrifty, Enterprise and Hertz. But then it was great to see the young independents like Matthew Holowinski from Greenberg Rent A Car taking advice from Dave Schwartz, founder of Rent A Wreck-and then have Schwartz in the same room as Jack Fitzgerald, Rent A Wreck's new owner. It was great to see Gil Cygler from New York exchange information on grassroots lobbying efforts with McKenzie Prokosch from Minneapolis, who is looking for similar legislative action in her state. The Wall Street investment guys were there to take stock and scuttlebutt. And then there were many more people than usual from varying corporations and organizations who on the face of it are not tied to car rental at all, but felt they needed to be at the show to understand what was going on.
This year CRS drew attendees from all corners of the car rental universe, including Canada, Ireland, Korea, India, Venezuela, Australia and the Middle East. We were expecting 30 attendees for the international operator's pre-conference seminar - there were more than 80 in the room. This international presence will grow further, as Auto Rental News has partnered with CarTrawler to present CarTrawler's Vendor of the Year awards this fall in Ireland.
At the commerce end of the spectrum, the expo hall was a zoo. Booth space was sold out. The scene was more than vendors simply showing off their products to potential customers. It was an opportunity to gain product feedback directly from end users. This happened at the expo hall booths, and also through a closed-door session in which one company vetted a product for two hours with interested operators.
In his closing keynote address Jack Fitzgerald took the car rental industry to task for a fractured approach to affecting legislative change, both on a grassroots level and nationally. He's right, at least historically. But the industry is better poised to act on the issues now than it has been in a long time. ACRA Executive Director Sharon Faulkner announced that Avis Budget Group and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group have joined the American Car Rental Association, which adds a new row of teeth to the association. And ACRA was very quick to act on recent proposed recall legislation to draft a position paper that was circulated at the show.
Any industry association gets stronger when there are threats against it. Addressing recalls safely and properly, fighting new erosions of the Graves amendment that eradicated vicarious liability, stopping unfair car rental excise taxes - there are consistent outside threats to the industry that need a swift response in a cohesive, decisive voice that represents the entire industry. At the Car Rental Show and through ACRA, the industry is going in the right direction on these issues.
Stay tuned for more blogs based on the 2011 Car Rental Show.