Journal: TWUKSection:
Title: Issue Date: 02/04/01
Author: Page Number: 36
Copyright: Other

Eastern europe by Jane Archer

Driving into unexplored territory

Companies report leisure business on the increase in eastern Europe

Driving on: Prague has proved to be a popular destination for car-rental companies as a result of the low-cost flights to the Czech Republic

UST a decade ago, the idea of hiring a car in eastern Europe would have been almost unthinkable.

Car-rental companies had bases there – Hertz appointed a franchise in what was Yugoslavia as far back as 1964 and added Bulgaria and the then Soviet Union in 1969 – but most people who travelled behind the Iron Curtain did so on a tour bus or stayed in the city they were visiting.

In 10 years, a lot has changed. The curtain is down, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have both disintegrated and people are curious to see what was hidden for so many years.

For car-rental companies, the business market to eastern Europe is still the largest but leisure rentals are increasing.

Hertz Europe franchise director Neville Cheetham said: “There are many tourists visiting central and eastern Europe and the leisure market is strengthening.”

Connect Car Rental managing director Adrian Duthie added: “The majority of our trade into the region is business rather than leisure, but as countries start to develop their markets beyond the main cities this side will also grow.”

While it is still hard to rent a car in many parts of Russia, the rental companies have locations in almost all the former eastern European countries.

Holiday Autos, for instance, has Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria, while Suncars and Transhire both have prices for the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

Holiday Autos said most of its business comes through Budapest, Cracow, Warsaw, Zagreb and Ljublijana airports.

“Croatia is expected to increase in popularity next year due to the good exchange rate and the good value holidays that are available,” said the company.

Budget said the Czech Republic is popular as it is now serviced by the low-cost airlines. Poland and Hungary are also major tourist destinations in eastern Europe.

As in the west, the minimum age for renting a car in eastern Europe is 21 years.

Speed limits vary, but generally are similar to western European countries.

Despite the old jokes about Trabant’s in East Germany, clients who rent a car in eastern Europe will be driving vehicles with familiar names.

Connect has a prominence of German cars – Opel, Mercedes and Audi – while Hertz lists models including the Ford Focus, Mondeo Estate, Opel Corsa and Volkswagen Polo, Golf and Passat.

“Because of the high risk of theft in the region, the number of Audi, BMW and Mercedes cars is limited,” said Cheetham.