Car bookings

Vehicle rental could be a struggle in New Zealand as the return of tourists looms

As excitement grows for international visitors to return to Aotearoa, it might be difficult to hire a vehicle to tour the country by tiki.

Rental car companies are struggling to rebuild their fleets after shooting down more than half of their cars in two years and with supply issues from overseas manufacturers.

The problem could have a negative impact on our hard-to-reach tourist sites.

The cars that are in the country are prepared and ready for the return of international visitors.

But getting behind the wheel of a rental car can be a challenge.

Tony Mortensen of the Rental Vehicle Association said “the industry was forced to sell once the borders closed”.

He said the industry estimates around 55-60% of the New Zealand fleet has been sold.

Now they are trying to rebuild with less than 30,000 vehicles on the road at the moment, a far cry from two years ago in Queenstown when Covid hit and unused rentals were parked up.

Today companies are trying to expedite the importation of new vehicles, but there is a global backlog for new cars which is due to a number of factors.

“The level of stock held in New Zealand at the moment is historically the lowest it has ever been and the constraints of Covid, the war in Ukraine, [computer] chip shortages, production disruption means consumers will have to be patient,” said David Crawford of the Motor Industry Association.

He says there may be a three to six month wait for some new models.

“Without enough rental vehicles, I think tourism could be severely hampered in the future,” Mortensen said.

Including tourist-hungry remote towns like Te Anau.

George Garden runs Fiordland Historic Cruises and believes “we will see a very significant impact”.

Indeed, pre-Covid figures show that just under half of visitors to Te Anau traveled there in a hired vehicle.

“If we don’t have confidence in this fleet, we don’t have the confidence to take bookings against this fleet in the future, especially during busy periods including school holidays, ski season and the summer period,” says Mortensen.

Garden remains positive.

“We’re pretty resilient – we always find ways around things.”

The advice to visitors is to book early as the industry prepares for overseas travellers, who will hopefully reach their destination.