The deadly COVID-19 virus has put the brakes on the once thriving car rental business in Barbados, bringing it to a virtual halt.
The industry depends heavily on tourists coming to the island, with that market being responsible for as much as 98 per cent of business for some companies.
Some companies get business from local corporate entities, and the majority depend heavily on the small seasonal increase in rentals from the locals in the busy Crop Over season.
However, with a virtual collapse of the tourism market as a result of the curtailing of commercial flights to the island, and the cancellation of the Crop Over festivities, car rental companies have had to put their operations on pause, with most of them indicating that they would be holding on to staff as long as possible.
Michael Corbin, an operator of one of Barbados’ oldest car rental companies Corbin’s Car Rental, told Barbados TODAY he did not believe business would pick back up until “some time” in 2021.
And like many others in the industry, Corbin said despite the winding road ahead, he remained cautiously optimistic about the industry’s future and its recovery once commercial flights resumed.
While some car rental companies have already laid off staff, others said they would be holding as long as they could even after vacation days were used up.
“It is devastating, to put it mildly. I have no rentals really. There is absolutely no business,” said Corbin as he sought to explain the extent of the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on his operations.
“The outlook is very bleak. I don’t see anything happening before next year. I hope I am wrong, but judging from the conversations I am hearing I don’t think tourists will be arriving here anytime soon,” added Corbin.
Despite the dark clouds however, he said he was “hoping desperately” for the best.
“We are not giving up hope but at the same time we are facing reality in that it is going to be a long and dry spell,” said Corbin.
“We have not sent home anybody yet. We are trying our best to retain the workers wherever possible and if we can get a little rental in between would be good. Sending home staff would be the last resort.
“At the same time, we are facing reality in that there is no magic wand that can be waved and we get back to what it was before. But we are cautiously optimistic that things can pick up and we would be very grateful.”
Stating that he was aware that Government was not able to assist everyone, Corbin told Barbados TODAY he had not given any thought to accessing any loan facility from Government just yet, explaining that even if he did he would need to be sure of how he would pay back any loans.
“So right now we are just holding strain and going day by day and see what we can do. We definitely don’t plan to close down, we would like to remain in business,” said the 67-year-old Corbin whose business has been in operation for more than four decades.
Also giving an assessment of the situation facing the industry was operator of Go Rent A Car Raymond Gill, who told Barbados TODAY that for him the outlook was “grim” since visitors accounted for just over 90 per cent of his business.
“We have no say in when business comes back. That is between governments and the restrictions and how the coronavirus spreads,” he said, adding that he expected the revival of the industry to be a slow one.
“We would love to have flights to start back and people come back to Barbados so we can get some business. I expect it to be slow. I don’t expect it to be turned on like a tap and we are back to where we were, but we are hoping for the best as we prepare for the worse,” said Gill.
Meanwhile, businessman Peter Harris, who operates Select Rentals, which has the franchise for Sixt Car Rentals in Barbados, said that company had witnessed a 100 per cent drop in business.
“We have been fortunate that we have some corporate rentals to have a few of our cars on the road. We don’t expect any significant return for the tourism sector until late September/October,” said Harris, who was optimistic that the first set of tourists to the island after reopening would be more likely to rent a vehicle.
One representative at Stoutes Car Rentals described the situation facing the industry as “disastrous”, adding that until the airport reopens to commercial flights “we do nothing”.
“We are holding on,” she said.
“We have given the maximum days of holidays to everyone actually because there is absolutely nothing happening. I mean nothing. Phones are not ringing, nothing,” she stressed, while adding that the local market was a minute segment of the business.
She said she anticipated business to resume around November.