Sunday, July 3, 2022

Rental car scarcity impacts summer tourism

  • June 22 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – “We were very disappointed,” said Marie Celeste about having to cancel her summer travel plans due to an extreme shortage in rental vehicles across Nova Scotia.

Celeste, who lives in Washington, D.C., had made plans to visit the province with her adult children this August but, when she tried to book a rental car for their vacation, the plan fell apart and has resulted in the family postponing their vacation until some future date.

“I searched and searched,” Celeste told The Journal in a June 17 interview. After several weeks of fruitless inquiries, she then enlisted the help of her partner, whose frequent travel for work meant he had a direct line to a dedicated staff person at a rental company who had worked with him over many years.

“I handed it over to him and said, ‘Can you try to get me a car? See what you can do.’ He said, ‘Oh no, this is not just you, there are no vehicles.’ We even tried to change our flights to come into Bangor, Maine, and then drive. Nope, that’s not working,” said Celeste.

After a couple of weeks of diligent searching online, with car rental companies and all the airlines, Celeste said, “We ended up postponing our trip, sadly.”

When Celeste spoke to friends about her vacation conundrum, she heard that they too had been experiencing a vehicle rental shortage. One person rented a U-Haul as that was the only option available. Another told her that a family member planning a wedding in Nova Scotia for next June had been advised to book car rentals for guests a year-and-a-half ahead of time.

Celeste and her party had planned to drive to many locations across the province, including spots in Guysborough County – a place she has never visited — but those plans will remain on the bucket list for the time being.

While Celeste had to cancel her trip, other summer visitors, particularly those who are coming home to visit family – often for the first time since the summer of 2019 – have been able to borrow vehicles from family members during their stay in the province.

That includes Stephanie Hall, who lives in England and came home to Cooks Cove, Guysborough County, this spring. When she looked into renting a vehicle a few months before her trip, the price had doubled since her last visit. And, when she checked availability two weeks before her departure, nothing was available, not even luxury cars.

Hall told The Journal in an online message, “Forget about getting one [rental car] the day you arrive and just pop to the rental counter at the airport.”

At this point in the pandemic, most consumers are aware of supply chain issues and the resulting shortages. But how this impacts the rental car industry is less clear and has come as a surprise for many travellers this year.

The Journal asked CAA Atlantic to explain the situation. Steve Olmstead, director, social responsibility & advocacy for CAA Atlantic wrote in an email, “Rental vehicle availability is a global phenomenon and will remain so well into 2023. A shortage of microchips required in new vehicles has slowed production, meaning rental companies are not able to replenish their fleets to meet surging demand from travellers.”

The best way to secure a rental vehicle, wrote Olmstead, is to, “reach out to more than one provider as soon as you know your travel dates. The earlier you book, the better chance you have of securing your preferred vehicle.”

Olmstead added, “Alternatives to rental vehicles include shuttle services and car sharing companies, which are popular world-wide and available here in Atlantic Canada. Car share companies are quite good at proving booking and cost options, and usually provide insurance coverage as part of the booking price.”

Car sharing was a concept Roberta van Caeyzeele – formerly of Guysborough County – discovered when she tried to find a rental car for her trip home this summer. A friend suggested the car share service Turo, which operates in many countries and provinces, including Nova Scotia.

van Caeyzeele did find a vehicle through a car rental company. She told The Journal in an online message, “It’s extremely difficult when you don’t know the area or where to look for rentals. Inventory is down, prices are high, and I was forced to pay more than my plane ticket. Doesn’t seem right, but they also have employees to pay.”

Car share service providers are gaining visibility and customers in this era of scarcity. Madison Seeman, senior communications manager for Turo Canada, told The Journal that the company has seen a 700 per cent year-over-year growth in bookings “as many guests are turning to Turo hosts to fill the void left by traditional car rental companies. Active hosts are also growing, as we've seen a 288 per cent increase year-over-year. Hosts are putting their vehicles to better use and can use the earnings to offset the cost of car ownership.”

Turo launched its car share service in Nova Scotia in 2019.

Some people have decided to rely on Nova Scotian hospitality to make their vacation plans come true this summer. Carmen Barron of Manchester, Guysborough County, told The Journal, “Folks are flying in from Ontario for an event in August and they cannot secure a car. That means two trips up to the airport and back for us...within two days of each flight.”

It may be that, this summer, tourism relies on community more than ever before.