Entrepreneur India, a monthly business magazine, organized an interactive webinar “Car Rentals – On Driver’s Seat?” as part of their ‘Resilience Series’ where they invite business leaders and investors to talk about the plans they have devised for their businesses to stay relevant during the COVID-19 crisis.
On September 10, the magazine invited industry experts Mr. Gaurav Aggarwal (Founder & CEO, Savaari Car Rentals), Mr. Greg Moran (Co-Founder & CEO, Zoomcar), and Mr. Mitesh Shah (Co-Founder, IPV & CFO, BookMyShow) to talk about how the car rental industry survived through its lowest phase during the lockdown, how companies are restrategizing their businesses to come out of the pandemic stronger and why car rentals are going to be the preferred choice of transportation for people in the post COVID world.
Watch the recorded webinar here!
Below is a summary of the interactive session with our Founder and CEO, Gaurav Aggarwal. The views expressed in the webinar are Gaurav’s personal opinions based on the trends and patterns of booking at Savaari during the post-COVID times.
Pre-COVID Business as Usual
“Before the lockdown, 90% of our bookings were related to business and leisure travel”, says Gaurav Aggarwal. With the peak season starting in April and June every year, followed by the festival and winter seasons shortly after, leisure travel undoubtedly was a major source of income for Savaari Car Rentals. “Our cancellation rates on an average were approximately 25% till February”, he added, “however, the entire landscape changed in just a matter of weeks”.
Absorbing the lockdown effect
“With the first lockdown in effect from March 25 till early May, business was in a standstill”, recalls Gaurav. Like all travel and mobility businesses, Savaari’s revenue in April dropped down to 0. While the months of June and July did see state borders opening up, the on-ground realities, however, were very different. Cities were classified into zones – red, green, and orange. In red zones, people could travel only with the help of an e-pass. In orange and green zones, people could travel freely. “Interestingly, most of our cities of significance were under the red zone”, states Gaurav.
In addition to providing a safe and sanitized cab to the customers, Savaari had to also find ways to help customers secure an e-pass. The process was not very organized and structured, to begin with. While in paper Unlock 1 started in June, it took, however, almost the whole of July for intrastate travel to become free.
“With stark differences in paper and on-ground realities, the misinformation and confusion proved to be an added disability for the industry”, says Gaurav. Similarly for Unlock 2 which in paper started from July 1, took at least the end of August to finally get the approval of states to allow travel without an e-pass, just like the pre-COVID times.
“With free travel, our numbers are slowly coming back. We recovered around 60% of our revenue in August, and by September we expect it to be around 75%”, the founder adds.
A return to normalcy – safety precautions and the way forward
Novel coronavirus upended the travel and mobility industry. A return to normalcy is only slow and the way forward involves new guidelines and SOPs for cleanliness and sanitization. When Savaari reopened their operations, Gaurav recalls following every precaution to make the ride safe for both the driver and the customer. All driver-partners at Savaari had to undergo sanitation and hygiene training before resuming operations.
In addition to ensuring a safe ride, Savaari also wanted to eliminate any added financial burden on the driver-partners. In fact, the fares were also kept the same as pre-COVID times so people did not have to pay an exorbitant price to travel.
At Savaari, a few SOPs are strictly enforced and non-negotiable
- All Savaari cabs are sanitized and aired before and after every trip.
- All cabs are equipped with a bottle of hand sanitizer, which both the driver and the customer is free to use.
- Drivers have to wear a face mask mandatorily at all times during a trip. They are also required to sanitize their hands at regular intervals and wash their hands wherever possible.
- All driver-partners are offered COVID insurance at nominal prices to help them avoid any financial burden in the near future.
- Customers traveling with Savaari have an equally important role to play. They are encouraged to carry their own COVID kit – a sanitizer, a face mask and a bed linen to cover the back seat of the car with. This ensures that the seats of the car are as hygienic as their own home.
Customer feedback – doing the right thing the right way
The overwhelming response from the customers was very encouraging for Team Savaari, Gaurav mentions. He adds, the aim was to keep things as simple as possible. The above-mentioned protocols do not cost much to the drivers, and Savaari will absorb the cost of sanitization without compromising on the safety of its customers as well as drivers.
One of the biggest proofs of the customer feedback, according to the CEO, comes from their NPS score. It was at its record high of 65% during the COVID times. This he believes was the biggest motivating factor for the company to continue doing what they do best – ensuring a safe mode of transport and making travel easy at a time like this!
Restrategize and adapt – narrowing focus on one-way
There are stark differences in the travel intent between pre-COVID and post-COVID times. After the pandemic, people were only undertaking essential travel – such as returning home to their natives, traveling due to a medical emergency, or returning to the cities they work. “With the COVID concerns rising, people were demanding safer commutes”, Gaurav reiterates. Savaari was quick to acknowledge this void in the industry and immediately worked on it for a solution. “And that’s where we completely shifted our focus on One-way cabs”, he mentioned.
In order to ensure people could undertake essential travels at a time like this without compromising on their safety and affordability, Savaari launched one-way cabs across 5 lakh routes pan-India at the lowest in the industry, all-inclusive fares. And if statistics are to be believed, Gaurav adds, then we are at 800% of what we did during the pre-COVID times. This undoubtedly is an undisputed contributor to Savaari’s recovery – an estimate of 75% by the end of September.
The way forward – how will people travel when they travel again
The truth is, people will not stop traveling. Sure, our modes of travel will change, but humans will travel when they are ready to travel again. One of the first things that will change in the coming years is that any travel that can happen within 6 to 8 hours, car rentals will emerge as the most popular choice among travelers. The reason being, customers will now prefer traveling in a dedicated personal space than sharing a space with strangers whose health statuses are unknown. Now more than ever, travelers will prefer a door to door service and avoid overcrowded, unsafe public locations.
For every customer now quality service will be a non-negotiable expectation. And in the years to come, it is quite possible that car rentals may become a credible alternative to trains and flights. As for Savaari, the CEO reiterates, the company will bear the expense of sanitizing the cabs for as long as it is needed. No questions asked!