By Martin Kelly
Online car hire is taking off online faster than a BMW down the Frankfurt Autobahn.
Everywhere you look on the web there are new outfits with catchy names such as www.drivenow.com.au, www.webcarhire.com.au, www.standbycars.com.au, www.rentnewcars.com.au and www.bargainwheels.com.au – to name just a few.
They have come from nowhere and are providing a dynamic new distribution channel for suppliers such as Hertz, Avis and Europcar, who inadvertently find themselves in a win-win situation.
Not only are they getting extra business without doing much, but they also have a great chance of keeping it.
That’s because many of the new Australian sites simply display rates from all the leading car hire companies on a matrix that takes them back to the chosen suppliers booking engine, allowing the big boys to own that customer.
Others have a direct XML feed in to the supplier databases, offering real-time availability and dynamic pricing. Improvements in supplier technology over the past 12 months have played a large role in making this possible.
“I think the car companies are astounded – like ‘where are these bookings coming from’,” said one website owner.
The key thing it’s all happened so quickly. For example, when the progressive www.drivenow.com.au started in September, 2003, competitors were few and far between – now you can’t Google “car hire” without getting deluged with options.
Meanwhile, established players such as DriveAway Holidays, Holiday Autos and Global Cars are reinventing themselves and going online in a very big way – utilizing the web for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales.
These outfits are also investing heavily in the back end, with technology creating enormous booking and financial efficiencies.
The recent merger between Holiday Autos and World Cars to create Holiday Autos Australia is an excellent case in point.
Managing Director of Holiday Autos Australia, Chris Hamill, said technology played a major role in the deal.
“The Holiday Autos system is very good,” Mr Hamill said. Not surprising when you consider the might of this global giant, which does more than one million ‘hires’ each year.
Mr Hamill said affiliate marketing has been very successful with some travel agents using a standard ‘white label’ booking engine setup, while others are opting for the full XML feed. Either way they are making money.
“The online agents we have signed up are doing very well,” Mr Hamill said.
DriveAway Holidays is also moving into the affiliate marketing space, announcing a new white label booking engine for agency sites after successfully testing with YHA Travel.
National Sales Manager at DriveAway, Doug McFarlane, said the company is having a big year and that much of its incremental growth is coming from online sales through agents.
Global Cars is another vehicle-based wholesaler in the midst of ramping up its capabilities and expects to roll out a new integrated system, based on Microsoft .NET, within the next couple of months.
It will have all the bells and whistles, allowing for direct inventory access, affiliate marketing and the rest, but for Managing Director Andrew Morgan it’s all about creating efficiencies.
“I wanted to do all this six years ago and I couldn’t but now I can,” he said.