ORLANDO, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on another industry: the rental car market.
Travelers in the Orlando area are feeling it, and it appears as though those in Tampa Bay are feeling it, too.
A Spectrum News review of websites of three major rental car companies showed high prices and tight availability for cars in both cities, especially during Thanksgiving weekend.
Orlando International Airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said the pandemic created the problem, at least in Orlando. Reduced travel prompted car companies to cut inventory and staff at the airport, sparking concerns from travelers, she said.
Fennell said airport officials, including chief executive Phil Brown, met last week with rental car company representatives to request increases to their fleets.
“We’re encouraging the rental car companies to make the travel, the customer experience near what we want to have as a world-class commitment to customer satisfaction, because the rental car market is a very strong part of our customer-service component,” Fennell said. “In fact, we have the largest rental car market in the country.”
Representatives of Tampa International Airport did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
That also was the case for rental-car companies Hertz, which filed for bankruptcy protection in May, and Enterprise. A spokeswoman for the Avis Budget Group told Spectrum News in an email that company representatives were “politely declining to comment as they cannot share market-specific info on the fleet.”
The Avis website at midday Wednesday offered a minivan during November 25-29 — picking up at noon on the day before Thanksgiving and returning it on the Sunday after — for $989.96 before taxes and fees, at both Tampa and Orlando international airports. That was the pay-online price, which increased to $1,099.96 before taxes and fees for those who wanted to pay later.
At both airports, Avis offered an economy car for more than $400 before taxes and fees ($406.76 at Tampa and $485.96 at Orlando) and a standard SUV for $647.97 before taxes and fees.
For the same period, Enterprise showed no available minivans but offered a standard SUV for $368 before taxes and fees at both airports. Its website said 18 types of vehicles weren’t available for November 25-29 at Tampa International and that 30 types of vehicles, including economy cars, weren’t available at Orlando International.
Hertz showed no cars available at all at either airport during that Wednesday-to-Sunday period.
Fennell, of Orlando International Airport, said traveler complaints have included long waiting lines to get a rental car — apparently the result of another pandemic-related staffing cutback hit to Orlando’s and Tampa’s tourism-heavy economies. The economic effects of the pandemic have prompted layoffs throughout the rental car industry since March, according to reports.
One day early this month at Orlando International, about 30 people waited in line at the Budget counter, which staffed two agents.
“All of that has been addressed and presented to the companies,” Fennell said.
In Central Florida, the inventory shortage extends beyond the airports. An employee at an Orlando Avis Budget franchise said he wasn’t permitted to speak on behalf of the company but mentioned it was tough to get a car anywhere in the area during a weekend.
Fennell said she hoped rental car companies would increase their fleets now that Orlando International recently saw one of its busiest weeks since the pandemic hit in March. Earlier this month, Tampa International also reported an increase in passenger traffic, according to reports.
“So,” Fennell said, “we’re hoping that all of the companies will look at what the needs and demands could be for this region during the holiday period and to the end of the year.”