6 Ways Coronavirus Changed Rental Car Companies

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The industry is focusing on improving safety in a whole different way during the pandemic so that you can hit the open road with one less concern on your mind. As states and businesses re-open, you may be talking about hitting the road and going on family road trips or renting a cozy, secluded cabin to get away from it all. Regardless of where your sense of adventure or work place takes you, you may need a car once you get to your destination — or to get there. So, what should you expect from car rental companies in the midst of a pandemic?

We talked to representatives at Enterprise Holdings (whose brands include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car) and the Kyte car rental service. From straightforward cleaning procedures to minimal in-person encounters, this is how car rental companies are seeking to keep both customers and employees safe now and in the future.


A contract-free rental process

In a pandemic, touchless transactions are vital for everyone’s safety. Reducing physical interaction between consumers and employees is also an ongoing effort, says Sara Miller, Vice President Corporate Communications at Enterprise Holdings.

“This includes the addition of a curbside rental option, as well as delivery at some locations, to help promote social distancing by getting renters quickly on their way while limiting foot traffic in our locations,” she explains. “We’re also working on additional modified offerings so we can implement more permanent low- and no-touch experiences for our customers in the months ahead.”

Kyte, a rental car delivery company, has been providing contact-free experience since its inception. Clients rent cars on their smartphones, then wait for a masked and gloved delivery driver to drop off the vehicle.

“With the general concept of rental cars being affiliated with a ton of paperwork and this dreaded factor of waiting in line, a change has been coming for quite a while,” says Bala Pichumani, who works in Growth & Operations for Kyte. “With customers ordering a car from their app, there’s no wait and no paperwork involved.”

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Serious cleaning protocols

For the protection of those concerned, car rental companies have raised the bar when it comes to cleaning cars for customers. At Kyte, they ensure that every Surfer—the person who delivers your rental car to your door—is equipped with a range of cleaning tools and products. The vehicle, including the keys and fob, are cleaned and disinfected prior to handover.

When it comes to cars rented from Enterprise Holdings, Miller says, “customers can rest assured when they see the Complete Clean Pledge on their rental car.” She notes that extensive cleaning mandates “include washing, vacuuming, general wipe down, and sanitizing with a disinfectant that meets leading health authority requirements, with particular attention to more than 20 high-touch points.” Key touchpoints include both exterior and interior door handles, the steering wheel, cup holders, and more.

Social distancing at the rental counter

Similar to the way the checkout lanes are changing forever, the service desk of your local car rental company will also change during, and likely after, this pandemic. At some locations, you may recognize plastic dividers known as “sneeze shields” to keep airborne droplets from reaching the service desk.

Also, depending on the location, the service desk or counter might be equipped with hand sanitizers or even disposable masks. While there is no all-encompassing way to avoid COVID-19 from being transmitted to a car rental desk, wearing masks, constantly sanitizing your hands, and standing back far enough to keep your distance six feet away from the agent will definitely help.

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Customer-friendly safety seals

In May, Hertz rolled out the Gold Standard Clean seal, a sticker-like ribbon that ‘seals’ car doors closed after the vehicle had been sanitized according to the 15-point cleaning checklist of the company. This mimics one of the ways in which hotels have changed during the coronavirus outbreak: in April, Hilton revealed CleanStay Room Seals, a visible sign that the room had been adequately sanitized and reset. While there is no way to determine that rental cars with a safety seal have been better sanitized than those without them, some consumers find a visible reminder of the brand’s cleaning protocol reassuring.

Adapting to customer concerns

Coronavirus has made life unpleasant for all of us. If you or a loved one have been infected with the virus, you’ve chosen to postpone summer travel plans, or you’re trying to determine whether to send your children back to school in the fall, everyday decisions are influenced by safety concerns. Luckily, car rental companies are willing to ease any concerns.

“We do receive quite a few questions,” Pichumani says. “A lot of customers mention that the reason they wanted to stop using [car-sharing or ride-sharing services] is that they don’t trust the concept of driving another consumer’s car versus renting from a company that is required to deliver a sanitized service.”

Miller adds, “For those ready to get back on the road, we want them to know Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent a Car are ready to support them with an experience that’s safe, secure, and exactly what they’d expect from us.”

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Quarantined cars

Despite everyone’s concerns regarding the coronavirus, it’s likely that you feel safe and relaxed when staying at home. You may have memorized a list of coronavirus symptoms and the least expensive places to order your favorite food online. But what if the worst happens when you’re on a family vacation? And what if you have a rental car that was last used by someone with coronavirus?

Aside from a rigorous cleaning protocol, Miller says that Enterprise Holdings’ brands “have measures in place to immediately isolate and quarantine any vehicle if needed.” As for Kyte, due to its delivery model, cars are often cleaned more than once between consumers. Pichumani says, “We started mandating that drivers clean our Kytes (the company’s cars) right before delivery. In addition to that, we have professional cleaning.”


Rental cars: The future of travel?

At the end of May, CNN reported that the car rental industry “nearly ground to a halt.” But now that summer is here, and the list of countries that might not allow American visitors continues to grow day by day, car rental companies have an opportunity to excel again.

According to Miller, “As people consider traveling this summer, many are choosing the car as their preferred mode of transportation. For those looking to hit the road, doing so in a rental car reduces wear and tear on a personal vehicle while also providing access to a wide range of vehicle makes and models to meet their needs.”

Pichumani recalls how one recent customer rented a car “just to drive up and down the coast one day.” She also states that people who normally travel abroad for holidays are likely to opt for local beaches or national parks this year. “We are really seeing a rise in local tourism, appreciating what’s around,” she says. “We’re here for them.”

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