How are you approaching this recovery?

Pierre-Olivier Bard – We are gradually emerging from the crisis. We were in a good financial situation before the pandemic, which enabled us to get through the period without too many setbacks, while remaining autonomous in our choices and decisions. Thus, while short-time working helped us a lot to get through this difficult period, we did not need to take out an EMP, for example. We still have the capacity to finance our fleet, which is important.

How have you adapted to a fluctuating business?

P.-O. B. – We have worked a great deal on managing our costs, one of the main ones being of course our vehicle fleet. We have been able to make our fleet as flexible as possible by reducing it, then increasing it again. We also moved it around a lot more than usual, especially during the tourist seasons. The important thing was to have vehicles available at the right place, where the customers expected them. Another important thing was the implementation of very strict sanitary protocols to respect the safety of our customers and employees. Finally, the crisis also led us to offer more flexibility to our customers with free cancellation allowed up to 24 hours before the pick-up of the prepaid vehicle, a policy that is still in place. In this context, our good financial situation allowed us to reimburse our customers within five working days.

The important thing was to have vehicles available at the right place, where customers were waiting for them.

As far as your business is concerned, who are your main customers at the moment?

P.-O. B. – As we have seen in 2020 and even more so in 2021, in France we are lucky to have a very resilient domestic leisure market. This is an advantage, because the business is still very domestic at the moment, with a gradual return of European customers since the summer. On the other hand, we are still lacking British and North American customers, even with the announced reductions. The Americans are starting to make reservations again, as are the British, particularly for the school holidays at the end of October. On the other hand, Asia and Australia are still closed, and the Middle East is very light for the moment.

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With the rise of teleworking and the use of videoconferencing, a significant drop in business travel is expected. What are your estimates for this market?

P.-O. B. – Even if we know that teleworking will become more and more important, it is still too early to judge the evolution and transformation of habits. However, as far as business travel is concerned, we do not expect to return to the level of 2019 and we will have to adapt to this new situation. Since September, we have seen a greater return of business travellers, as travel restrictions have been easedies. It will take some time to determine whether the business travel trends emerging from the pandemic will become the new norm.

The crisis has also supported the acceleration of digitalization and the use of contactless technology. What initiatives has your group taken in this area?

P.-O. B. – In the midst of the crisis, we extended our online check-in service to all our customers, not just members of our loyalty program, in order to push for a complete finalization of the reservation before the customer goes to the resort. This means less contact, less paper and less waiting time, the big problem in airports and train stations being these arrivals at the same time at the counter. On the other hand, for our Preferred customers, we have also worked on “paperless” solutions that allow them to skip the counter and go directly to their vehicle. This saves a lot of time.

Where do your loyal customers have access to this new service?

P.-O. B. – We are currently deploying secure areas in stations and airports where travellers will find the location of the car indicated on screens. They will then find the key in the vehicle. Via the app, they can also change cars if they wish. This offer is currently available in six agencies: Paris Orly, Lyon Saint-Exupéry, Nice Côte d’Azur and Toulouse Blagnac airports, and in the Paris Gare de Lyon and Bordeaux St Jean railway stations. We will continue to develop this offer between now and the end of the year, particularly at Paris CDG, and throughout next year.

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Do you think that the way cars are rented could change, especially in light of companies’ CSR objectives?

P.-O. B. – I remain convinced that short-term rental as it exists will continue. Of course, in Europe, we have many more ways of getting around than in the United States or Australia, whether by train, plane or car. But it is a certainty that car rental will be part of the long-term future. Especially as we renew our fleet, it will be increasingly green.

How far have you got with the evolution of your fleet?

P.-O. B. – Three or four years ago, we started offering hybrid vehicles – rechargeable and non-rechargeable – and then electric vehicles. Today, our so-called “low-emission” fleet represents 20% of our fleet, with a full range of electric vehicles. This portion will grow month by month as our fleet is renewed. This greening of the fleet is being pushed forward in particular by the LOM law. But the process will be long. Take the charging stations, we have 50,000 in France, compared to the 100,000 expected. The infrastructure is not yet there. And, it must also be noted, demand continues to increase, as more and more people test the technology.

So it’s more a problem of demand than supply?

P.-O. B. – Our customers are interested in the electrical experiences that we can provide.dare. Electric vehicles are still an alternative, rather than a demand. As we can see from our calls for tender with our B2B customers, electric categories are not in demand for short-term rental. We must not forget that when calculating their carbon footprint, companies include their own fleet of vehicles, which is in the process of becoming greener, but short-term rental remains outside this calculation method. This also explains why this shift will take time to materialise.