How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules

Member comments

  1. On my last trip back to the UK I noticed Avis had closed loads of branches, very few of the non-airport ones survive. Back in Italy they’ve also closed locations too, Ferrara no longer shows up when I do a search, the nearest is Bologna.

    I was in the UK just as the first pandemic was starting to hit, demand had slumped and prices were very low. It seems to survive they shut a lot of their branches as well as selling off a lot of their cars.

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REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer

Tired of the same old tourist hotspots peddled by travel guidebooks? Here's where Italians are choosing to go on vacation this summer, according to new surveys.

REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer
Montepulciano in Tuscany - a region that's a firm favourite with Italians and international tourists alike. Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

Italians are known for being fans of the ‘staycation’, making the most of their own country’s world-famous sights and stunning coastlines on holiday – and this year is no exception, with Italy ranking as the main destination for Italians, according to recent findings by national statistics body Istat.

TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year

Among those living in the south of Italy, over half plan to stay in their own region, whereas six in 10 from the centre-north will leave their area for their Italian holiday.

And most will be heading to just a handful of popular regions this time.

Puglia, Tuscany and Sicily feature at the top of the list according to a study by research institute Demoskopika.

The south-eastern region of Puglia is expected to see a 13.6 percent increase in tourist arrivals to the region on last year, followed by Tuscany (13.4 percent), Sicily (13.2 percent), Emilia Romagna (12.9 percent) and Sardinia (12.8 percent).

These regions feature prominently on ‘Top places to visit in Italy’ lists, and you’ll find that the same towns, cities and beach resorts are recommended again and again to foreign visitors.

Instead, here are some of our picks within these areas that are popular with locals and less likely to be overrun with crowds.

Il Ciolo, Puglia

Puglia is increasingly a popular destination among both Italian residents and foreign tourists looking to relax and restore.

And no wonder, with its clear waters and beaches picturesque enough to rival tropical destinations.

But it’s not relaxing when the world and his dog descends on this corner of Italy, meaning people are fighting for space to lay their towel or tourists are jostling to take snaps of the region’s unique whitewashed stone huts, known as ‘Trulli‘, in Alberobello.

Il Ciolo is one example of a place where you could avoid the hordes. It’s a spectacular creek, right at the tip of the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot.

It’s a little wilder and a bit more rugged than the beaches you’re likely to find in Puglia’s must-visit lists and, a bonus for scuba lovers, it’s known for its top diving spots.

Find a spot to enjoy Puglia – or you’ll see more humans than sand. Photo: Massimo Virgilio/Unsplash

Lido di Volano, Emilia Romagna

Good luck trying to find this one in any ‘Destinations not to miss in Italy’ articles.

The region of Emilia Romagna was found to be in the top five of Italy’s regions for Italians’ summer travel plans, according to the Demoskopika study, with an increase in tourists of 12.9 percent and a 26.3 percent increase of those staying in the region compared to last summer.

This coastline may not be a rival for those azure waters of Puglia, but Lido di Volano is not to be dismissed if you want to unwind by the sea.

Reader question: What are the rules on travel to Italy from EU countries right now?

Lido di Volano offers wildlife spotting, watersports and a quiet place on the beach. Photo by Aurelie Peche on Unsplash

The highest part of the Comacchio coast, it’s one of the quieter spots of Emilia Romagna’s riviera and is surrounded by nature rather than blocks of apartments or a multitude of shops.

Pine forests and nature reserves line the coast, making your walk or bike ride to the sandy beach a refreshing one.

According to the Emilia Romagna tourist board, this is the “most unspoiled of the seven lidi” and due to its more isolated position and being more open to wind and currents, it’s an ideal place for kite surfing and windsurfing.

The colours of Sassari’s waters amaze and delight. Photo: Branislav Knappek on Unsplash

Sassari, Sardinia

The region of Sardinia is also a destination Italians are heading to (or staying in) this summer, according to the survey’s findings.

And with Sassari reporting the cleanest air in Italy, what better place to reset and do your body and soul some good?

This is an ancient, historic city, known for its art and inspiring coastline. From fine sand to smooth pebbles, Sassari boasts a variety of beachscapes for you to kick back and enjoy some much-deserved time off.

Lodge like a local

If you’re really keen to holiday like the locals, you can follow their accommodation trends for this year too.

According to Istat, over a third (34 percent) of respondents are opting for accommodation in a hotel or guesthouse, followed closely by a house or apartment they own (32.4 percent).

If you’re not a holiday home owner, you could rent a house or apartment just like some 26 percent of Italians.

Or you could get back to nature and stay in a campsite, as almost 8 percent of Italians plan to.

The data also revealed that the Italians planning to go away on holiday this year are mainly those between 18 and 29 – some 75 percent said “certainly yes” or “probably yes”, followed those aged between 30 and 49 (58.5 percent).

The shares fall progressively with age, with older people more likely to skip a summer holiday. Just under a third of Italians in this category (32.4 percent) said they’re planning a summer break.

Those who do intend to take a holiday are taking the time to recharge, with most respondents saying they’ll spend two weeks away. And those who are staying in their own region plan to take even more time off, with some 31 percent of respondents planning to have longer than two weeks of a break.