I and my colleague were in Beijing for a business trip last month, it was the first time I was in the city, we had to attend a 3-day trade show, a seminar organized by a government agency, and visit 4 customers, the schedule is very tight. I had planned a 7 day stay, and I hoped to have some sightseeing after business in the last two days.
After I booked the flights and hotel, I started to plan my ground transportation; I was thinking to rent a car and drive around, but this did not turn out to be so easy in China.
First I searched for Beijing branch of major international car rental companies, I first tried on the website of Hertz, to my surprise, the largest car rental company did not offer any car rental service in China. Then I tried SIXT, the car rental company I often used in Europe, again I was disappointed, SIXT has only 3 pickup locations in Beijing, and only one model to offer, the price is also very high, and I can not pick up and return the car at airport.
Then I made some searches on Google for the local companies, with the keywords "Beijing car rental", unfortunately most of the results returned are Western companies who do not operate in China at all.
Just before I was about to give up, I ran into the website of a Beijing company that offers chauffeur and limousine services, it does not let you rent the car and drive for yourself, it only provides car with a driver, you pay the rent for the car and driver as one package. This seemed fine for me, so I checked out the price, the price was good, in Western countries limousine service is usually much more expensive than car rental, but in China there is no much difference, I guess it's because of the low wage, then I talked to their online service guy and made reservation online.
This limousine service turned out to be perfect, we used 2 airport transfers and 6 days of rental, the car model we selected was a Buick mini-van, it was very spacy and had a high roof, we could pack all our luggage including some samples for the show easily yet had enough space to stretch legs, the total cost for all these rental and services were only USD 940.
After chatting with someone in the limousine company we realized why limousine service can be the best choice for ground transportation for foreign travelers:
First, for some policy reason, the international car rental companies are not able to offer extensive rental service in Chinese cities yet;
Second, it is extremely difficult for a foreigner to drive in Beijing roads, the roads are always congested, some drivers are wild if not crazy (as we have witnessed), and cars for rent do not have GSP system in English;
Third, going around by taxi is not easy for a foreigner too, as very few taxi drivers can understand English;
Fourth but also importantly, limousine service is cheap in China, so why bother to drive yourself while a professional can do it for you?
For all these reasons I'd suggest foreign business travelers to use limousine service in Beijing, or car rental with driver ---- I'm not sure how to call it as the cars are usually not stretch limo but regular sedans---- it is fast, efficient, and affordable, there is a little price to pay comparing with taxi, but it buys a lot of time and peace of mind.