The pandemic almost brought Rentalcars24/7 to a standstill but the young parking services company has survived the covid-19 border shutdowns and is now expanding into new sites across the country.
When Evan Pillai and Tony Lyons come to work, every day is different, but one thing always remains the same – seeing how excited their customers are to be getting on the road to wherever they’re travelling to in New Zealand.
“It’s catching,” says Lyons, Rentalscars24/7’s general marketing manager. “We experience happiness with our clients every day.”
General manager Pillai says it doesn’t matter if it’s a couple on their big OE or someone popping up to Auckland from Christchurch to see family, people are just excited to be able to travel and explore again.
Rentalcars24/7 is based at Auckland Airport and is owned by parent company Park n’ Fly, which is also an operator of rental car and parking services at the airport.
“What drives us is the passion of putting people who come to New Zealand into cars,” he says. “We love that.”
Pillai has been in his role since September 2019. He says he came into the industry with lots of dreams and a plan to stick to 100 vehicles and make the process of hiring a rental car as simple as possible.
He had no idea that just a few months later when the pandemic got to NZ, the rental car businesses would be – quite literally – screeching to a halt after borders slammed shut and the country went into lockdown.
“By March, we had to pause, and we had a long think about what we were going to do going forward,” Pillai says. “We decided to start with fewer cars and went from 100 vehicles down to 20.”
From there, he convinced the company’s directors to invest in a new website and started to build the company’s fleet back up over the next year.
By the time December 2021 rolled around, they were ready to launch. It was tough at first, but slowly the business started to grow again.
Lyons came on board as general marketing manager in April, around the same time Kiwibank stepped in to help fund the company's growth and expansion plans into Queenstown and Christchurch.
A Queenstown branch opened in September. “It's been really successful from day one,” he says.
The biggest difference between the Auckland and Queenstown markets, he says, is the reason behind their clients' visits to NZ.
Their Auckland base mainly sees people visiting family or moving back to NZ from overseas and a lot of Australian visitors are starting to trickle through, as well.
“Queenstown is the total opposite,” Pillai says.
People are going to Queenstown to get married, have a holiday, or tick off an international travel destination they’ve had on their bucket list since covid-19 closed borders.
“When you speak to people, they’re so excited,” he says. “They return the vehicle and they’re so happy from what they've seen and experienced.”
Lyons says: “For us, it's not a job, it's a passion and a journey that we're all on. We just love it.”
Pillai says many of the Rentalcars24/7 clients have memorable stories, including one from two European travellers who spent three weeks tramping cautiously around NZ without realising until the end of their trip that NZ had no snakes.
“Everyone thinks Australia and New Zealand are the same thing,” he laughs.
The Queenstown hub started out with 50 cars and quickly grew to 150. Growing demand means the company plans to expand the fleet even further next year.
Christchurch is next on the company’s agenda and a base opens there in February.
There's no branch yet in Wellington. Pillai says Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch are bigger tourist hotspots and have larger customer bases. But he doesn't discount it happening one day.
This time last year, Rentalcars24/7 had just finished rebuilding its rental car fleet in Auckland. This time next year, Pillai hopes to have 600-700 cars across the country.
“New Zealand is such a beautiful place,” he says. “We really want to share that with visitors.”