Competition is cool

SHALU CHANDRAN caught up with Sam Eltibi, regional director, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, to find out why he’s running two brands in the region

Why do you run two brands, Dollar and Thrifty Car Rental? Do they complement or compete with each other?
We are trying to grow better in each market, since some of our licensees have reached their market potential, and we thought it would be a good idea to launch a new brand – Dollar.

The two do not complement each other, but compete. The companies operate as two different entities with some common functionalities such as workshops, fleet purchasing, so the positives purchasing will make economies of scale. The day-to-day activities are totally separate.
As a new company, Dollar has a totally new fleet but also offers a somewhat differentiated product. Each one has its own target, and business plan. The bottom line for both is customer satisfaction, organic growth and profit.

What are your plans for the region?
We have always been very optimistic about this region. In 2001, we had a fleet of 4,000, today, we have more than 17,000. This year so far, we were successful in franchising Turkey and we are working on India. We hope to have Dollar operational in Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, by end 2007. In the UAE, we’ve have new Thrifty outlets at the Mall of the Emirates, and Deira and Sharjah City Centers. We have also opened Dollar in the Green Community.

What investment has that taken?
I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact figure, but there is a substantial investment, but we are a very healthy group and we will not overlook any investment opportunity that comes our way. We are giving it all to our business.

What about travel agents? What kind of commission structure do you share?
We work very closely with travel agents. We have local and regional and even international deals with them, that is how we get our business. We deal with every source, especially in the UAE. We offer the standard 10 per cent commission for online bookings, but most agents here like the full inclusive rate with the freedom to mark up prices. We have had long standing relationships with them, I believe they are happy.

What is your fleet profile? When do you take delivery of 2007 models?
We have ordered for 2007 models and will take delivery in September. We are the single biggest purchaser in this market but our focus is on market desire and residual value on Japanese cars. Other cars are available too, but the bulk of our cars are Japanese. Our business today is 50-50, 50 per cent long-term and 50 per cent short-term, 50 per cent corporate and 50 per cent  leisure.

You also have an elite range?
Yes, it is a small fleet. We currently have the BMW 5 series, Mercedes E class, M class, M7 series and the Land cruiser. We are not a luxury car rental, but we must satisfy our clients’ needs.