With rental cars hard to find or extremely expensive — and travel numbers rebounding — some desperate tourists in Hawaii have turned to alternate forms of transportation: moving trucks.
Kaleo Alau, president of U-Haul Co. of Hawaii, said in a statement last month that there had been a “considerable uptick” in rentals from visitors to the islands. Demand was mostly for smaller vehicles such as pickup trucks and cargo vans, and rentals were typically for a few days to a week.
“We realize this demand is occurring when tourists are unable to secure a rental car, or they learn that our rental fleet options are more affordable,” Alau said in the statement.
He told local TV station KHON2 that the company had taken calls from people who were concerned when they saw the trucks at the beach.
“We’re like, ‘Let’s go and check it out, make sure it’s not stolen,’ and no, it’s just somebody at the beach,” Alau said.
Rental cars have been in short supply in warm-weather destinations such as Hawaii, Arizona and Florida since earlier this year as more people have started to feel comfortable venturing out. The surge in travelers was more than rental car companies could handle after selling big portions of their fleets when the pandemic sent their business into a tailspin.
As a result, travelers who are used to booking flights and hotels first — and leaving rental cars as an afterthought — have been in for a rude awakening.
For a weekend in mid-July, an Expedia search for rental cars in Honolulu shows vehicles starting at $249 a day. An 8-foot U-Haul truck during the same time in Honolulu costs $19.95 a day, plus 89 cents per mile.
Jeff Lockridge, a spokesman for U-Haul International, said in an email that the company has “been renting the vast majority — if not all — of our vehicles in Hawaii on a daily basis.”
In his statement, Alau said Hawaii U-Haul stores and dealers were working to make sure that they could meet the needs of residents who had to move, offering larger trucks and urging them to reserve equipment far ahead of time.
Lockridge said there is no way to know whether customers outside Hawaii were replacing rental cars with U-Hauls, though he said it was “likely happening to varying degrees where there are rental car shortages and price hikes.” But he said the company is not pivoting to meet those needs.
“We are not a rental car operation — we are a self-move and self-storage company catering to the DIY residential customer — and our objectives or marketing direction remain unchanged,” he said in his email.
However travelers find a way to get around, the shortage is expected to last as summer travel ramps up.
Chris Woronka, a leisure analyst at Deutsche Bank who follows rental car companies, told The Washington Post that he did not anticipate a quick solution.
“I am not overly optimistic that we are going to have all the rental cars we need for peak summer travel season,” he said.