Hire car firms overwhelmed by late British influx

UK tourists' resilience has surprised Europe: they haven't got enough hire cars to cope with us all.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Bad news for intrepid holiday-makers planning a last-minute jaunt to Europe: they’re running out of hire cars. Operators were expecting tourist numbers to plummet this year, so many of them didn’t bother replacing their fleets. But they clearly under-estimated the British desperation to get out of Blighty for the summer, regardless of this pesky recession – a late surge in bookings means that more and more tourists just can’t find a hire care for love nor money. It’s not the most relaxing start to a two-week break when you have to try and hitch a lift up the autopista with three kids and five suitcases in tow…

Apparently the problem is particularly acute in Spain: the BBC reports that punters are having to pay twice the normal rates just to get their hands on anything whatsoever. Others are moaning about bookings being cancelled at the last minute, or having to wait around for ages while the car firm drags a clapped-out old Seat Ibiza from the deepest recesses of its car park.

The problems are largely a reflection of those facing the global auto industry – car makers have been scaling down production as fast as they can manage it, and fleet buyers are struggling (like many businesses) to access suitable finance from the banks. So the end result will probably be that your two weeks in the Costa del Sol just got a little pricier. Unless you decide to get the train instead.

Still, we suppose the positive angle on this news is that at least British consumer spending is proving more resilient than expected, which possibly suggests that the economic outlook is not quite as dire as some would have us believe. There was further grist to this particular mill today from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, who reported that the number of house repossessions actually fell 10% in the second quarter relative to the previous three months – possibly due to the fall in interest rates making mortgage payments more affordable.
However, we suspect both of these green shoots will prove to be illusory. It seems quite likely that house repossessions will start climbing again if unemployment is going to head north of 3m. And the fact that Brits are desperate for a fortnight in the sun in August isn’t really proof of anything, apart from how pathetic our summer weather is...

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