Ralph Wilson, owner of Chalis Car Rental and Tours in Montego Bay, Jamaica, discusses in this web-exclusive Q&A how the company competes for airport rental customers in a climate of high taxes.
What's your fleet size?
Our fleet has now grown to 400 vehicles. We had started with six cars and had doubled our fleet every year with aggressive marketing strategies so we had constant demand for more vehicles.
How many locations do you have and in what types of areas?
We have one location at 10 Federal Ave., Montego Bay opposite the Sangsters International airport.
How did the business start?
We saw that there was an opportunity in the car rental business and with my experience in the minibus business I decided to start Chalis Car Rental and Tours with a small fleet of six cars in 1996.
What are your primary sources of rental customers?
Our main source of customers is airport customers, which we harness from the Internet. Our customers book over the phone and Internet with our sales team at the airport. We have travel agents that book tours with us and customers that just book over the phone. We are also an affiliate of Economy Rent A Car.
What made you decide to include tour and even hired drivers in your business model?
Jamaica has always been a destination that people all over the world want to see and may not want to drive, so we added a tour which brings in good revenue.
Are you pursuing new sources of business/customers? What are they?
We need more travel agents and websites to work with since we are focused on airport customers. We are also part of the Jamaica Tourist Board.[PAGEBREAK]
How has the car rental market in Jamaica evolved in the past 10 years? 20 years?
The Internet has made the car rental business more competitive as we now have to compete with a lot of foreign brands. We now have to be spending more on marketing. For example, there are about 20 companies in and around the airport including the major brands.
Describe your marketing efforts and what the payback has been so far.
We are now marketed on websites like Kayak.com and Economy Rent A Car that gives us global reach. We book hundreds of reservations on Kayak.com and Economy Rent A Car. We also have spent large sums on SEO and Google Ads. We use social network sites like LinkedIn to connect with partners.
How do you buy cars (lease, repurchase, buy)?
We buy new cars as we get a duty concession from government.
How do you sell your cars? (sell back to dealers, used car lot, auction?)
Our cars are sold straight from our lots.
What are your popular rental vehicles?
Our most popular vehicles are the Toyota Yaris and Toyota Corolla.
How long do you keep cars in fleet?
Cars are kept in our fleet up to four years.
How did you survive the Recession? And what is that economic climate like currently for you in Jamaica?
We were able to survive this recession by selling cheap rates. It's not the best of times but we try to beat the competition at all times so we survive.
What are your biggest challenges right now in the business?
Our biggest challenge right now is finding insurance companies that will provide full insurance so that we can offer a lower deductible.
What does the car rental market over the next five years in Jamaica look like?
I believe car rental companies will have to look to internal markets as external markets slow down. The car rental market will increase in Jamaica over the next five years due to the increasing cost of insurance and the repossession of many private vehicles due to the prolonged recession.
Do you have any legal threats that are challenging how you do business?
We do not have any legal threats apart from high taxation. We pay 20% duty on rental cars. We also pay 17.5% taxes on vehicles and on each rental. (Editor’s note: Taxation on the car rental industry is currently an issue being fought by the Jamaica Rent-A-Car Association. You can read more about the taxes and duty concession from the Jamaica Observer.)