AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Car manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with demand due to a global shortage of microchips. That's making things tough on car rental companies. They sold off a quarter to a half of their fleets last year when travel crashed because of the pandemic. Now, with a summer travel rebound on the horizon, the forecast for some popular destinations is long lines and higher prices or no rental cars at all. Montana Public Radio's Aaron Bolton reports.
RACHEL: Glacier Raft Company. This is Rachel (ph).
AARON BOLTON, BYLINE: Customers are eagerly calling in to book their rafting trips near Glacier National Park this summer. They go over the normal things you would expect.
RACHEL: And would you be interested in our scenic or our whitewater rafting trip? Whitewater - OK, perfect.
BOLTON: But the staff are also asking customers flying in if they have a rental car. Owner of the local Hertz franchise Dale Duff says much of his and other rental car companies' inventory this summer is already booked.
DALE DUFF: We are faced with a definite shortage of cars, and the airline industry has had enough faith in us to bring more seats in here. So we have a definite problem.
BOLTON: There will be 80,000 more airline seats available coming here compared to 2019 but 2,000 fewer cars available to rent. The Glacier area is not alone.
CHRIS WORONKA: I think it's widespread, but I think it's more prevalent in the vacation resort markets.
BOLTON: Chris Woronka, a leisure analyst at Deutsche Bank, says Florida had a spring break car crunch and expects more places to have one this summer. Although the supply and demand mismatch isn't as extreme in many big cities, rentals near Yellowstone National Park are currently going for $200 a day or more for a car. Exactly how widespread the shortage will be this summer, Woronka says, will be more clear when car rental companies release their first quarter numbers in early May.
WORONKA: I suspect we're going to be dealing with these rental car shortages and abnormally high prices certainly through the summer.
BOLTON: Back at the raft company, owner Cassie Baldelli says business owners near Glacier National Park are concerned tourists may not fly here if they can't get a rental car. Surrounding towns are small, so there's not much public transportation. And service from ride hailing options like Uber or Lyft can be spotty.
CASSIE BALDELLI: It's been fairly unreliable in the past, but knowing that there is a car rental shortage and stuff, we're hopeful that maybe that will encourage more drivers to partake in that.
BOLTON: Tourist businesses here are encouraging locals to rent their personal cars on apps like Turo. And there's even been talk of using a local ski bus to shuffle tourists around to land here without a car. Racene Friede with Glacier Country Tourism Marketing says there's also hope that one pandemic trend continues - lots more people driving their own cars here for getaways, even from very far away.
RACENE FRIEDE: We generally anticipate kind of a drive market of about 600 miles. Our drive market last year was all the way to Florida. That could kind of roll over in the 2021 season.
BOLTON: So as excited as tourist destinations are that air travel is back, they're also letting people know that they'll be very happy if people decide to put some miles on those commuter vehicles that have probably been spending a lot of time in their garages lately, too.
For NPR News, I'm Aaron Bolton, Columbia Falls, Mont.
(SOUNDBITE OF GOTH BABE SONG, "SUNNNN")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.