COLUMBIA, S.C. — The chauffeur industry is seeing an uptick in clientele.
More events that were canceled last year are back in the books, increasing the demand for limousine services.
The National Limousine Association (NLA) president, Robert Alexander, said business is growing every week.
"We can not hire quick enough," said Alexander, who is also the Founder and CEO of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation.
With major car rental companies selling off their fleets last year, a microchip shortage this year for auto manufacturers and more people booking trips, rental cars are being booked by the minute.
The high demand for rental cars, Alexander explained, causes prices to go up. Because of that, he says many consumers are utilizing different modes of transportation.
"People have said, 'You know what, let's look at the economics of this if we're not really going to go out when we get to our destination or something, maybe it makes sense to get a chauffeured car'," said Alexander.
In some spots across America, average weekly rates are nearing $1,000.
Replenishing a fleet also poses a challenge as the cost of new and used vehicles is also on the rise.
"If business was down 80%, it's clicking up," said Alexander. "We're seeing a 20% increase each week."
In a survey by the NLA at the end of April, 71.7% of business owners said future bookings are slightly or significantly higher compared to March.
Forty-five percent of respondents reported a larger first quarter revenue for 2021 compared to the same time last year, with nearly 17% saying revenue is as high as 50% or more.
"Corporate travel may come back different. I focus on that because that's really what drives a big section of our industry," said Alexander. "Retail is great. Weddings are booming. All the weddings that were canceled are now being rebooked for the fall."
As far as unique travel, Alexander says they're seeing more calls from commuters needing a quick trip to work, for example.
"The short trip type of thing we're seeing more of where people want to make sure they're going to get picked up," he said. "They want a guaranteed car and they want to know what they're going to pay for."
For some owners in the chauffeur industry, business is booming thanks to more big events returning to the calendar.
"We're actually in Charleston working with PGA right now," said Laura Canady, owner of SC Express, which provides sedan, SUV and limousine services.
Canady says her uptick in business began in late March.
"Last month, we were in our Aiken office, which covers the Columbia area, for the Masters Golf Tournament," said Canady. "In our local areas we're also seeing proms...We also handle transportation for some of the colleges and sports teams."
After the pandemic forced employee layoffs, Canady says the whole team is now back to work.
"As we start to see more retail moving, I think the corporate side will hopefully start to move again as well," she added. "That's when you'll start to see local economies bouncing back."
The NLA predicts business will reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.