Prior to joining Auto Europe in August of this year, Eric Ledroux held executive positions with Renault, Avis Europe and Europcar. His extensive knowledge of the car rental industry spans 21 years of experience. Eric overseas all operations in the Americas for Auto Europe, offering worldwide car rental services, hotel reservations at 3, 4 & 5 star European properties, as well as consolidating business class airfare internationally.
TRO: You are fairly new with Auto Europe. Tell us more about your background.
EL: I have been with Auto Europe since August. Before that I was CEO of Europcar, working in both London and Paris. I came here to oversee US operations so that our CEO, Imad Khalidi could focus on expansion of international offices in Europe and Australia.
TRO: With this international expansion is Auto Europe adding primarily to its customer base or product line?
EL: Auto Europe services were initially marketed to North American customers traveling to Europe. We are now marketing in over 50 countries out of three regions:
- North America – based in Portland, Maine
- Europe, with offices in Munich, Lisbon and London
- Australia with offices in Sydney, marketing to agent community in Australia and New Zealand.
Auto Europe now has product in 140 countries around the world, including all of the countries of Europe as well as Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia and Latin America.
TRO: You offer wholesale hotels and consolidate business class airfare as well as car rental. What is the business percentage break down?
EL: Currently, car rental is 80% of our business in North America; however, are growing our hotel business very fast with a very good hotel product now. A lot of money has been invested in this area recently and travel agents can now access over 50,000 hotels in our database.
Our inclusive product line includes cars, RVs, motor homes, motor bikes, everything that has wheels. We also consolidate Business Class air which usually must be packaged with car or hotel.
TRO: Who do you see as your primary competition in the hotel segment? Is it someone like hotels.com?
EL: Well, in the US we don’t take the position of an ‘Internet Only’ distributor. We are very much a call center based company to give advice before purchase to our customers – who are travel agents – and to give support during travel.
Unlike the online travel agency whose business it is to put the customer directly in contact with the supplier, we are very much with the customer through the experience. If there is any problem, the customer can call us, we have 24/7 English speaking call center with a toll free number from Europe. So, we give a great deal more support than the Internet Only distributors.
TRO: So, the real distinction for Auto Europe is the service and support throughout the process?
EL: Yes, exactly.
TRO: A sampling of the videos hosted on your YouTube Channel proved very informative. (http://www.youtube.com/autoeuropecarrentals) In one video it is stated that 90% of your business comes through travel agents and 50% of those are home based. How is that trending?
EL: We have seen a trend back to use of traditional travel agents this year over last. Whether working through a home based or storefront based agent, the customer sees European car rental as a more complex purchase. Often they are viewing makes and models of cars that they are not familiar with. They often have questions about insurance, what is covered, what is not, what are the liabilities, what are local taxes and customs, etc. It is a transaction that needs a lot of advice and support which is what we provide, because we know the product so well. So, to answer your question, we have seen a slight increase this year in bookings coming from travel agents.
TRO: The affiliate booking link Auto Europe offers to agents pays full commission whether or not the travel agent takes a role in the transaction. This appears to be a huge labor saving opportunity for agents if they can educate and motivate clients to book via these links. Do you concur?
EL: Yes, absolutely.
TRO: Are Auto Europe rates competitive? How do you maintain pricing competitiveness and still provide top tier customer service?
EL: It is our search capability and the scope of our access that makes us so price competitive. We have pricing teams here in Portland. We are always looking at the web to determine where our pricing needs to be. We are talking all the time to our providers to get competitive rates to be able to serve the market. If the agent or the customer comes to us and says they have found a cheaper rate, we will look at it – and if we are comparing apples to apples – we will match that rate. Because of our supply sources and our internal organization we always have competitive pricing with the best availability…with the 24/7 customer service. It is very rare that we are beat on price.
TRO: How would you summarize the Auto Europe’s opportunity to the agent community?
EL: Because of our call centers we are known for exceptional support and customer service. 90% of our business comes through travel agents. Working with the travel trade continues to be our priority. We are not an online travel agency. All of our bookings are commissionable without exception. We believe that the customers we are serving are the more affluent customers, a little more select maybe. They are looking for a great vacation experience and it is a big investment. It is quite unique. It is not a mass market vacation.
We are currently upgrading our marketing materials and communication programs to the agent community. This will be communicated to via email and other channels for product news very soon.