Book your rental car early, says N.L.'s tourism minister, as province faces fleet shortage
Some companies say they've already lost business due to a lack of available transportation
With a lack of rental cars thwarting some visitors' travel plans for the 2022 season, the province's tourism operators are working with the provincial government to offset the impact.
John Fisher, who owns the Fishers' Loft inn and restaurant in Port Rexton, says six customers have already cancelled their reservations due to a lack of transportation, unusually high for so early in the year.
"This is not an easy province to visit if you don't have a car. In fact, it's probably almost impossible," he said. "A car is absolutely critical.
"If we are turning people away because they can't get wheels, things are not good."
More of the same
Tourists across Canada and the U.S. have reported issues obtaining rental cars since the onset of the pandemic, when uncertainty around travel prompted rental agencies to drastically downsize their fleets.
N.L. Tourism Minister Steve Crocker said Thursday that rental agencies in the province hope to minimize the impact this year by moving their inventory around the province as needed, which is why he's cautioning visitors to book in advance.
"Booking early gives you a guarantee of supply, but it also gives the car rental agencies the opportunity to forecast peaks in demand, so they would know if there's movement of fleet, for example," he said.
"Even within the province, if there's something happening on the east coast and there's a lull on the west coast, it gives those car rental companies their opportunity to move fleet around."
Crocker said one of the main problems with rental cars in Newfoundland and Labrador is the province's geography.
"Car rental agencies in most of North America can move fleet from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We're not nimble in that way," he said.
Crocker also said while the lack of rental cars is a "very important issue," it is not unique to Newfoundland and Labrador.
"We can't lose sight of the fact that this challenge is borne by all of the industry, no matter where you are right now in North America," he said.
Hoping the wheels will turn in 2022
Craig Hirota, vice-president of government relations and member services for Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators, says a shortage of semiconductors in 2021 made it difficult for those companies to replenish inventory, and the success of the 2022 season will depend on whether that problem is rectified.
"We're all waiting for those vehicles to arrive," he said. "But it's really going to depend on the auto manufacturers and their ability to get parts."
Hirota said the shortage is magnified in more remote areas of the country — like Newfoundland and Labrador — but he's hopeful the wheels will turn in the second half of the year.
Fisher also has a reason to be optimistic for 2022: with early bookings up 10-15 per cent over previous years, the coming year is shaping up to be a historic one for his business.
"On the surface of it, this is all good," he said. "But if people can't travel, they cancel."