GREAT SALES PROMOTIONS coupled with high commissions and top-quality service have propelled Auto Europe to the front ranks of car rental firms.
With its sister company Destination Europe, Auto Europe is able to compete against car rental giants like Hertz and Enterprise as well as major tour operators such as Trafalgar and Globus.
"I don't mind competing with great companies such as Hertz," Imad Khalidi, Auto Europe's president and CEO, said in an interview with Travel Agent. "What I don't like is competing against online travel sellers such as Expedia and Orbitz." He thinks these vendors offer little or nothing in the way of service support. "Like thousands of travel agents and other companies impacted by online competition, Auto Europe has paid a price," he says.
A staunch supporter of travel agents, Khalidi believes Auto Europe's pricing is more than competitive and that the rewards in commission levels—as high as 17 percent—are key reasons for Auto Europe's success.
Khalidi took over Auto Europe, which was formed in 1954, in 1990. Four years later he created Destination Europe, the tour unit. His approach was to offer agents strong incentives and commission levels on combined air, hotel and car bookings—in brief, one-stop shopping.
Over the years, Khalidi has expanded Auto Europe's product line. The company now has 4,000 car rental locations worldwide and sells scheduled air services from the U.S. to Europe, an inventory of 2,000 three-, four- and five-star hotels, chauffeur and transfer services, prestige and sports car rentals, and cellular phone and motorhome rentals. A surprise offering last year was scooter rentals in European capitals that proved a winner.
Khalidi says Auto Europe will always be able to offer competitive rates and can match any other supplier with service quality. "We have never forgotten that we are in the service business. Our motto is simple: If you think there is something more important than a client...you need to think again."
Included in Khalidi's list of clients are travel agents. "We benefit from strong support from the agency community and their support is fundamental to our success. This will not change anytime soon," he says.
Auto Europe has won recognition from a variety of sources for the service it provides, as well as for Khalidi's championing of agents. He received ASTA's 2001 Allied Member Award for his support of agents after 9/11.
When agents faced the 1995 airline commission cuts, Khalidi raised commission levels. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wildfires in southern California, Khalidi raised funds to help travel agents impacted by the disasters.
Anticipating a Good Year
Auto Europe and Destination Europe work closely with virtually all the major agency consortia. Khalidi has also developed an affiliate program that allows agencies to link their websites to Auto Europe's booking site. He welcomes new affiliates and reports that about 7 percent of Auto Europe's revenues come from the program.
Auto Europe has also benefited from the boom in European cruising with its sales of hotels, limousines and tours to cruise passengers in popular ports such as Barcelona or Naples. "2008 should prove a good year for the travel industry and Auto Europe," Khalidi says. "There are selling opportunities in both the business and leisure sectors that travel agents can promote." His advice: Listen to customers and serve them skillfully, with quality services and sound pricing.
For a full list of Auto Europe's offerings, visit www.autoeurope.com.