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Car Rental To Support Emerging Travel Trends

Car Rental Industry To Support Emerging Travel Trends

The world today is an uncertain, rapidly changing place, but it remains fascinating, and travel is as popular as it’s ever been. However, the nature of travel is changing, in step with social trends that are transforming the world, writes Lance Smith, Executive: Sales at Avis Rent a Car Southern Africa. These changes come with significant opportunities for the car-rental industry. 


Modern travel trends reflect our greater sustainability consciousness, with travellers finding more creative ways of experiencing the world without leaving too big a carbon footprint. Other travel trends reflect a focus on human connections, instead of mass, commercialised tourism, while modern technology is also helping to transform the travel industry. 


If you’re a traveller, chances are that you have an Instagram account. The image-driven social-media platform is the perfect way to document our lives, and the awe-inspiring places we visit. Often, we will feel compelled to visit a destination after seeing it featured by one of our Instagram friends. We’ll then want to travel there, and to document our adventure on the platform as well. A recent survey1 found that 40% of millennials choose their holiday destinations according to how “instagrammable” they are!

This has positive implications for the car-rental industry, because Instagram-worthy destinations need not necessarily be on the other side of the world. A weekend getaway in a rental car can generate an awesome series of pics and Instagram stories, and still boost one’s clout on social media.


Cashless travel
Another technology trend that is driving the tourism industry is cash-free travel. With cash and travellers’ cheques no longer a necessity, travellers are actively seeking out destinations that allow them to pay using cards, EFT or payment apps such as Snapscan and Zapper. The convenience of handling all transactions through a smartphone, and the security advantages of not carrying cash are obvious. Already, the car rental space is moving towards a cashless, paperless payment system, where transactions can be completed online, by banking app or by credit card within the car-rental company’s digital ecosystem. In some cases, customers can book, pay, unlock and drive off, all using the app.


Micro travel
Micro travel is the trend towards short, more intense getaways, where travellers avoid extended vacations in favour of three- or four-day trips. These shorter holidays still get us out of our daily routine and help us to relax and enjoy new experiences without having to claim our entire allocation of work leave. It’s simple to slot back into work when we’re only away for a few days. Group holidays are also easier to schedule when they don’t disrupt the routine of the respective group travellers too fundamentally. 

Effective mobility becomes important on these compact getaways, where lounging around by the pool is not the plan of action. Having the run of the city with a rental car is an ideal way to get around and explore, making the most of limited time to pack in as many experiences as possible. 


Low-impact travel
Another fundamental driver of travel today is our understanding of the need for sustainability. We know the carbon impact of air travel on the planet. The “Greta Thunberg effect” is encouraging environmentally conscious travellers to find options that don’t require getting on a plane to the other side of the earth. Local getaways to a nearby lodge with a few friends in a hire car can be just as much fun as a trip to exotic Thailand a 13-hour flight away. Sailing trips, and rail travel are other ways of minimising the carbon impact of our holidays. 


Green travel
The logical outcome of growing environmental awareness is green travel, where having a positive social and environmental impact becomes the very motivation for the travel itself. Already there are voluntourism holidays designed around building social housing or doing beach and ocean clean-ups. One can visit and support conservation projects through organisations like conservation.net, or plant trees during a volunteering holiday, internationally2 or locally3.


Culturally sensitive travel
Travel is also becoming more caring and considerate, taking into account the cultural sensitivities of the communities around popular travel destination. In Australia, tourists have been banned from climbing the famous Uluru rock, which is sacred to the Anangu people. Respectful cultural tourism has emerged to replace similar exploitive travel practices of the past – incorporating curated cultural routes, home stays and guided community tours.

Closer to home, this approach manifests in township tours, or rural community hosting in areas such as the Eastern Cape4. We still have much to learn about each other, and there are brilliant opportunities do so locally. The car-rental sector is ideally positioned to enable this, through partnerships, through cultural travel packages, or by empowering customers with the mobility to explore rural areas.


The harsh truth is that sometimes tourism itself starts to damage the destination it seeks to celebrate. Already congestion has forced the closure of popular destinations such as Maya Bay, Thailand, location for the movie The Beach, Komodo Island, Indonesia and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in Iceland. The good news is that there are thousands of alternatives. “Undertourism” sees travellers seek out exciting, little-known destinations well off the beaten track. Instead of visiting Thailand, they are discovering Vietnam, going to Sri Lanka in place of Bali, or travelling to Greenland in place of Iceland. Not only do these destinations offer similar natural splendour, but the lower people pressure allows visitors to meet the locals and build real human connections. 
South Africa has exciting opportunities in the undertourism space, where we can position ourselves as an affordable alternative to Australia, or a less-crowded Rio de Janeiro. Domestically, we should market our stunning destinations such as Port St Johns or the Magoebaskloof as practical options beyond the sometimes-crowded Cape Town-Table Mountain offering. All of these destinations may require more independent travel solutions than the outdated tour-bus approach, and again, South Africa’s healthy road infrastructure and car-rental network are well placed to help travellers explore the hidden gems that make our country so special. 

Emerging travel trends are towards positive environmental and social impacts and using technology to enhance efficiencies and convenience. Nimble legacy operators in our car-rental and adjacent sectors must look to tailor existing operations to remain relevant and stay in touch with consumer needs for the benefit of the industry and the planet. 

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