MISSOULA — People can finally travel again, and for many that means jumping on a plane and heading to the great state of Montana.
Tourists can get here, but finding a reliable set of wheels once there has become another unexpected product of the pandemic.
“We have tons of people moving to this area and tons of people vacationing here,” said Clark Nissan general manager Audrey Knight.
“They’re coming from out of state and they’re desperate the airport is without a lease until August,” echoed Missoula Nissan general manager Justin Sinclair.
With names like “Big Sky Country”, “The Last Best Place”, and “The Treasure State”, can you really blame tourists for wanting to visit Montana?
The answer is no, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when trying to book a rental car and nothing is available.
“We have a shortage of cars across the country and rental car companies are not getting their fleet numbers like they normally do,” Knight told MTN News.
According to local auto dealers, the problem started when COVID put an end to travel plans last year.
Car rental reservations have been canceled, employees laid off and companies forced to reduce their fleets.
Now, as the country reopens and families reschedule those vacations, fishing trips and glacier tours, the car rental industry is feeling the pressure.
“There’s a huge, huge demand and a very, very small supply,” Knight said.
The traditional car rental business may not get you on the road this summer, but there are alternatives to pick up the slack.
“We currently have 30 rental cars and plan to install about 20 more,” Sinclair said.
Nissan dealerships in Missoula and Kalispell both predicted this shortage of rental cars, so they started renting cars from their own fleet, which they did on a much smaller scale for many years. .
“What we have always done is that Nissan, the manufacturer, offered us the possibility of leasing vehicles. Normally we keep a small fleet for rent to customers who have their car in the shop or in service or getting a warranty repair or something, so this is a program that Nissan has had for a long time. -Clark Nissan GM Audrey Knight
Seeing this shortage as an opportunity, Nissan of Missoula and Kalispell both jumped at the chance to expand their retail rentals, a side of the business that is sure to last and one that other dealerships could try.
“I’ve had a few phone calls from dealerships, and they’re asking what we’re doing because they’ve heard about it,” Sinclair said.
“We saw an opportunity to expand this program and expand it a bit to help our community and help the tourism industry here,” Knight confirmed.
In addition to leasing at dealerships, a new company called tutorial allows private car owners to rent their vehicles.
Similar to Airbnb’s business model, customers can download the Turo app, search for the desired location, and choose from local tenants. Most vehicles cost around $150 per day.
A less conventional option, but an option nonetheless, has been spotted as tourists take advantage of moving companies like U-Haul, renting a truck for the day as they tour the state.
Whether you want to mark Montana off the bucket list or you’re a local, a new way to rent may be the only way to travel to the Treasure State this summer.
Even as car rentals catch up with demand, Sinclair says, “I think our tourism is here to stay, really.”
- Book your rental well in advance!
- Consider Uber or Lyft if you don’t plan on driving a lot at your destination.
- If you are going to a resort or hotel, shuttles may be available.
- Check in for public transport.