Car hire firm a pioneer in online travel world


19 Aug 2005

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A Dublin-based car hire company has evolved into an online travel power house and has established a white-label car hire booking engine that is now used by more than 200 active travel partners in 20 countries. Arguscarhire.com is now developing its ETrawler booking engine to handle the needs of flight and hotel booking web players.

In 1996 Arguscarhire.com became the first European English language car hire rental website and by 1999 had launched the industry’s first online quotation and booking facility. Today the company is one of the top three global independent car hire providers.

The ETrawler web-booking technology firm that grew out of Arguscarhire.com has already outstripped the growth of the original car hire business and caters specifically for DIY travellers who are looking for the best deals in car hire.

Greg Turley, CEO and founder of ETrawler, explained the business grew out of his dissatisfaction in terms of partnering with some of the world’s major travel global distribution system (GDS) providers who were demanding backdated percentages of annual turnover before they would allow independent car hire firms access. “I said no to that and decided not to do any deals with GDS providers.”

Turley’s Arguscarhire.com was one of the first business-to-consumer websites to launch in Ireland back in 1996 and the company rapidly began to receive business from US tourists who were looking to hire cars over the internet and not only for Ireland but for the rest of Europe too.

“Competitor websites tended to be brochure sites and people had to calculate the costs of hiring a car themselves. My attitude was why should the customer have to do all the work. We developed a technology that did this for them by enabling them to put in the dates times and location and give them an all inclusive price.”

Arguscarhire.com then evolved into an intermediary or broker of sorts for other independent car hire firms. “We figured that there must be thousands of independent car hire firms such as ourselves that were locked out of the major GDS systems,” said Turley.

“What I wanted was a new revenue stream. Independent car hire firms couldn’t get on to the GDS systems except for an arm and a leg. The theory was I was going to build this GDS for all the independent car companies. They could sign up to our system for free and essentially we would earn a few euros from every booking. Essentially we were giving fellow players a franchise, a global brand and access to a GDS.”

To avoid competitive and branding issues with other independent car hire firms, Turley and his brother Niall decided two years ago to rebrand the technology division ETrawler.

Simplicity, Turley said, is what is giving players such as ETrawler the edge in the multibillion-euro online travel business. “It’s all about pricing. Essentially we are promising consumers the cheapest supplier for every type of car they are looking for. Only the supplier that puts up the cheapest price gets the deal and ultimately at the heel of the hunt the customer gets the best deal of all.

“In three clicks the transaction is complete. It is so simple that call centres are actually getting calls from customers checking to make sure it was booked.”

In January the company embarked on a white-label strategy that enables other car hire firms to put their own brand on the technology on their websites. “It is currently available in 20 countries in various currencies. There is up to 200 partners at this stage using our technology on the site.”

He revealed in October the company will become the first car-rental company to offer its services when O2 launches its iMode interface.

According to Turley, Etrawler has a staff of 25 people and is entirely self-funded from profits. “I believe in the old way — you can’t spend what you don’t have. We did it step by step.”

Turley said the company is currently working on internationalising ETrawler to work in multiple languages across multiple currencies. The company is also planning to develop white-label products for the airline and hotel business and the product sets will be known as CarTrawler, HotelTrawler and FlightTrawler respectively.

By John Kennedy