'Rent-A-Car business can help tourism immensly':

Driving a dream to reality


People have dreams in their lives. Sometimes they realize these dreams in real life with determination or some let them just keep them as dreams. The owner of a leading rent-a-car company in the country and Managing Director, Casons Rent-A-Car Zakir Ahamed also had a dream to own a business related to cars and he had a vision to make it a profitable venture. He was interviewed by Daily News Business.

'I was very fond of cars from my childhood. My uncle had a car when I was very small and I used to potter about with it during my leisure time. I learnt most of the things about cars during my childhood, he said.

An old boy of Zahira College Matale, Zakir was the eldest in a family of four children. After completing his school education he joined an automobile engineering institute in Kandy and obtained the membership of the Automobile Engineering Institute in UK. Then he joined a private sector company as a transport officer for four years.

Zakir Ahamed

'I used to work long hours those days and gained experience on how to manage a transport business. Once I had to attend to an urgent personal matter and could not go to work. I was sacked from the job for my absenteesm and I am here today because of that, he said.

Zakir instead of going in search of another job wanted to start a business of his own. 'I only had my dream and hopes when I started this business,' he said. In 1987 with another friend he rented a small office space in Colpetty and started the 'rent-a-car' business with a small investment. 'At that time, the charge to rent a car for a month was Rs. 4,500 only. I hired one car to start with and gradually increased the number of vehicles as the demand increased,' he said.

'It was not a well-known concept at that time but I created an awareness among my friends and spread the message around to find the market,' he said. 'In 1990, I invited my brother Zufer Ahamed to join the business and handle the accounts. I started leasing vehicles as there was a good demand. I purchased 10 vehicles including vans and gave my clients a high quality and reliable service. They liked me and supported me as I was an upcoming young person,' he said.

Zakir shifted his office to more spacious premises in Rajagiriya with new developments and employed three people. By 1993 he had 30 - 40 vehicles in the business. Within a short period of time of eight years the business was well established and he registered the business as a private limited liability company. 'I named the company 'Casons' because my father's name is Casim. I took the first two letters CA and because my brother and I were partners I added the word sons to it which made CASONS', he said.

Today, he has a large fleet of vehicles and a three storied office building in Borella with nearly 100 employees.

There are 10 to 12 rent a car companies in the country at present and Casons is one of the leading companies. His clientele includes foreign delegates, corporate clients as well as personal and government clients. Zakir is also one of the founder members of RACA the Association of Rent-A-Car operators.

Asked about the difficulties he has faced from the beginning of the company he said 'It was very difficult at the beginning because there were no proper communication systems as today.

A vehicles of the Casons fleet with a customer. Pix by Sumanachandra Ariyawansa

People did not even have telephones. I had to send a person on a motorbike to most of the places to give a message. This is a business of high risk. Sometimes the cars hired from us were used for various illegal and wrongful acts. I have lost several vehicles and there is a lack of sufficient regulation in Sri Lanka to recover the damage in such instances. I have got a very good insurance package with Amana Takaful Insurance, he said.

'The Government should consider this matter and formulate suitable laws because the rent-a-car business can be made a fast developing service in the country which will bring a lot of foreign exchange to the country via tourism. After the war ended I had a large number of inquiries from my old clients and new clients about their holiday plans to visit Sri Lanka. Many foreigners like to hire cars because they have more privacy. Some like to stay longer than one month but the visa restrictions discourage them.

If the Tourist Board starts working with our Association it will build confidence on the country improving the country's image. These are the facts that Government should consider to develop this service.

Presently the taxes on the import of cars, prices of motor spare parts and fuel are very high.

If some concessions are be considered for this business it will improve further', he said.

His future plan is to develop the business further by opening a branch in the North and provide more employment opportunities. 'I give my clients 24 hrs service and there is a vehicle repair plant and a pool of drivers and self driven vehicles ready to serve anywhere in the country at any time. People can make bookings on-line and these are the secrets behind my success,' he said.