I think the answer to that question can be found in a confluence of factors.
First, with more than 100 international attendees this year — our most ever — auto rental can officially be called a growth industry in the growth markets. Among many other countries we had 40 (!!) attendees from Brazil, and they even brought with them a Portuguese interpreter, replete with United Nations-style equipment.
To be sure, this large group wouldn’t all have made it up north without the organizational efforts of Julian Gritsch of EuroIT, a car rental systems software provider based solely in Brazil. However, his company has grown from a half dozen employees to six times that in a couple of years, based solely on the growth of car rental inside of Brazil.
Today, there are 2,000 car rental companies in Brazil, and they are moving beyond the traditional tourist areas that cater to foreign travelers and into new markets such as neighborhood and corporate rentals. And so they come north, and east and west (and some, south) to learn from the car rental companies in America, the grand dame of car rental markets — the place that experienced these same transformations some 30 years ago. You can bet those operators will be up to speed in one tenth the time.
We may have missed some attendees who were at ITB in Berlin, a massive global travel trade show with car rental involvement, though I doubt there was any car rental-specific seminar content there. No, our little engine that could is actually the only global event designed specifically for the auto rental industry.
When I say “grand dame” I don’t want to portray North America as unduly wrinkled. We’re experiencing a new vigor ourselves. In his keynote, Mark Frissora touched on the evidence: the growth on the discount end from Fox, EZ, Payless and Advantage — and entirely new players in the market such as Sixt — demonstrate that there is business to be had.
What started as an independent and licensee-specific forum has morphed into an event increasingly recognized by the majors. Part of this can be owed to the majors’ renewed franchising initiatives; yet independent of sales prospects, the industry recognizes the opportunity to get together, take stock of the challenges and hash things out. I think the fact that Mark Frissora actually accepted our invitation to deliver a keynote is a testament to the show’s place in the grand scheme of things, or at least a worthy forum to be heard!
And in a gross bit of understatement, “ditto with the Congressman.” Congressman Sam Graves eradicated vicarious liability, folks, and he spoke at our show. That’s very cool.
At the ACRA panel, it was gratifying, uplifting and downright amazing to see Enterprise Holdings, Hertz, Avis Budget Group and Dollar Thrifty all at the table, along with Gil Cygler, the voice of the independent. I don’t think Sharon Faulkner’s and Bob Barton’s efforts on behalf of ACRA to get everyone to the table have been recognized quite enough. These guys don’t agree on everything, and that’s okay, but they realize that they have a constructive forum in which to dialogue.
As their houses are now in order, we’re seeing a renewed interest from the auto manufacturers at the Car Rental Show. Though they each have their fleet previews to show off product to their largest fleet customers, I heard OEM reps asking rental companies for feedback: “What do you need from us?” “What’s working, and what’s not?” I’m glad the automakers are taking advantage of the opportunity.
With such growing pains (or pleasures) we’ve finally decided to move out of the Las Vegas Hilton (I mean, Las Vegas Hotel) and into the Rio. As I said on Monday, “grief counselors are standing by.”
And so, as I did on Monday at the show, I’ll once again say thank you. Or gracias, obrigado, gracie, danke schen, cheers, tack, komapsumnida, and kawp khun krap. Apologies on that last one for mangling “thank you” in Thai. We’re glad you came from near and far, and look forward to seeing you all next year.
Check out our photo gallery of the event, and our news wrap up. We will have more coverage in our May/June magazine issue, so stay tuned.