Nova Scotia

Travellers tackle N.S. car rental shortage ahead of summer season

Travellers to Nova Scotia are coming up with unique ways to navigate the car rental market, as a shortage of vehicles in the province and increased demand caused prices to spike.

Prices for rentals have spiked, forcing some people to change plans

A worldwide shortage in semiconductors is the reason a 2021 shortage in rental cars is stretching into the 2022 season, says Craig Hirota, vice-president of government relations and member services for Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Travellers to Nova Scotia are having to come up with unique ways to navigate the car rental market, as a shortage of vehicles in the province and increased demand have caused prices to spike.

Lisa Dahr, director of industry relations at the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, said the organization has been in talks with operators who initially downsized their inventory due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are now dealing with heightened demand as summer nears, which has caused a shortage.

"We have heard from a few operators where it has unfortunately resulted in booking cancellations from visitors," Dahr said in a statement.

Rental car operators in Nova Scotia have been battling supply issues since last summer, when travel began to slowly ramp up after being shuttered by efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

High prices

One traveller, Savannah Greene, said the stress of finding an affordable vehicle for her upcoming trip from Perth, Australia, has been taxing. Greene, who is originally from Halifax, said she plans on travelling back to Nova Scotia, for the first time in three years this summer. After booking the tickets, Greene and her partner looked to rent a car for travel, only to be bowled over by high prices.

"When we first started looking, I think the best price I could find was $2,500 for a little under five weeks. That's almost the price of one of our plane tickets," she said. She posted about her challenge in finding a car on Facebook to find other arrangements, but didn't have any luck, she added. 

"By the time I had explored other options, I went back to look at rental cars and the prices had actually gone up because of the demand, and we were looking at over $3,000 for less than five weeks."

Another traveller, Daniel Sanford, said he suffered similar obstacles when booking his car for his regular trip from Edmonton to Nova Scotia to visit family and friends. After also coming up against high rental prices after booking his flight, Sanford said he decided to fly to Moncton, N.B., instead, where he was able to rent a car he'll drive into Nova Scotia.

Changing plans

He added that the change in location increased the cost of the trip, and forced him to reduce the amount of time he plans on spending in Nova Scotia.

"I normally go for three weeks," he said, but he decided to trim a few days off. "The rental car was the deciding factor. When it's over $100 a day, and then you throw in the price of gas ... and the additional hours I have to drive, too."

While he was able to get a vehicle, he said the cost of the rental may affect how often he comes to visit the province.

Greene was also able to secure a car for her trip, she said, as her mother has purchased a used car she'll keep after Greene travels back to Australia. 

"If it all works out, we're going to end up contributing half of the amount of the car and the parts. I think it'll end up being less than $1,500," she said. "We bought a car for cheaper than we could rent one. How is that even possible?"

'Relatively confident'

That flexibility is something CAA Atlantic's Steve Olmstead said is going to be necessary in the coming months for travellers looking to explore the province.

"It will have an impact on some tourists," Olmstead said in an interview. "Price point could be an issue for some people. Availability could be an issue. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with alternatives."

He added that tourists should look ahead of time to see what services, like shuttles and local transit, may be available to them.

Dahr, with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, said in an interview that despite the current challenges, the industry is feeling "relatively confident" about the upcoming season.

"Our fleet operators are saying they're expecting things to improve," she said. "However, they are identifying that there will still definitely be some limitations with their current inventory for this current year, and that is why they are encouraging people to book early, but also to call their offices directly to check for availability because cancellations are happening on a regular basis."

She also highlighted a need to strengthen transportation connectivity for visitors and a transportation strategy that allows for more seamless travel into and around the province.