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Premium Car Rentals Complement Luxury GetawaysJanuary 8, 2007 By: David Eisen Travel Agent
Sell benefits and functionality for increased commissions
So you just booked your clients on a first-class flight to
and into a signature suite for a week at the swank Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
& Spa. You've arranged wine tours and meals at some of the most desirable
restaurants wine country has to offer. Congratulations on your hearty
commission. But one thing you or any agent can do to sweeten the return is to
pair the experience with a vehicle befitting the tone of the trip. In this
instance, why not sell up your clients' car rental?
"Who wants to pull up to a five-star hotel in a
Kia?" asks Amanda Klimak, vice president of Largay Travel, noting that
many clients may feel embarrassed to arrive at a posh hotel in an inferior
vehicle. So how does a travel agent impress upon a client the importance of
renting a premium vehicle, without pressing the issue too hard or making the
client feel obligated? It's not that difficult, says Klimak. "We sell the
benefits and functionality of the upgraded car, not just that's it's nicer or
better looking," she says, while pointing out that clients on average want
the added space a premium car provides for items such as golf clubs or
cumbersome luggage. "Nine times out of 10 the client will take the
recommendation. They want the whole experience when on a vacation and the car
is part of that."
Calls for a luxury experience have pricked the ears of car
rental agencies, which have quickly initiated programs to tap into the luxury
travel market. "We recognized the growing trend for luxury travel,"
says Frank Camacho, staff vice president of marketing for Hertz, who also asks why someone
vacationing in a chic destination would want to drive anything less than a
premium automobile. While the luxury travel market was stymied after 9/11,
Camacho says it came back strong soon thereafter. "There are luxury
travelers back into the market and they want these types of products."
Hertz President and CEO Craig Koch noted this growing
attention given to luxury travel, prompting Hertz to launch the Prestige
Collection, an assortment of luxury cars matched with premium service. The
collection includes such makes as the Mercedes 230C, Infiniti M35, Volvo XC90,
as well as two newer vehicles: the Audi Q7 and Lincoln MK7. Drivers wanting
that rugged-yet-refined edge can also rent the Hummer H2. The program's success
hinges on its ability to promise customers that the make they reserve will be
available upon pickup. "People who want luxury are specific about their
wants," says Camacho. "We let them reserve makes and models."
Specific codes are available to agents to book these models via the GDS. The
incentive to book a Prestige Collection vehicle rests mainly in price, as these
cars often cost two times as much as a standard.
The success of the Prestige Collection begot Hertz's Fun
Collection in 2005, which comprises vehicles one level down from Prestige, but
upscale nonetheless (PT Cruisers, Chrysler Sebrings, assorted SUVs, etc.). Avis Rent A Car countered with its own
version of upscale driving with its Cool Car collection, which it launched in
May 2006. The purpose of the collection is to heighten guests' driving
experience and make it as memorable as the vacation itself. Customers opting to
rent from this collection can choose from such makes as the Cadillac CTS, the
Volvo S60 and the Hummer H3.
The addition of these types of vehicles shows how cognizant
car rental companies are of the expanding luxury market. However, they aren't
the only ones getting into the game. The affluent traveler's hankering for
special cars and services has spawned an assortment of specialty car rental
companies, which deal in high-end, head-spinning vehicles. Steve Bandovich is
the owner of Chicago-based Cloud
9 Specialty Car Rentals, where you can drive out in a Lamborghini Gallardo
for $2,380 per day. He says that demand for premium cars has risen 10 to 15
percent from year to year.
Shadowing Cloud 9 is California-based Specialty Rentals, a
licensee of National Car Rental, which rents out everything from the nimble
Lotus Elise convertible to the sleek Porsche Cayenne SUV. Their web site
enables shoppers to select any make and model, and there is a section devoted
to discounts and specials.