Uber pins post-Covid recovery in MENA on affordability

Ride hailing company is witnessing increased demand for low-cost mobility options across MENA region especially in Saudi Arabia and Egypt

Uber’s post-Covid resurgence in the Middle East and North Africa region is being driven by a focus on affordable travel, according to Tino Abdellatif Waked, director and GM at Uber MENA.

The ride-hailing service suffered particularly during the lockdown and curfew periods over the last six months, with business globally dropping by 35 percent – and as much as 80 percent at the height of the measures in May.

The resulting economic impact caused by the pandemic saw the company shed around 3,000 jobs across the world.

However, Waked told Arabian Business that the market is showing signs of recovery, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with a strong leaning towards more cost conscious options.

He said: “We’ve seen stronger recovery for low-cost options. That’s been driven by demand in Egypt and Saudi. Basically we’re seeing that people are looking for more economic ways for transportation and this is particularly true for front-line workers who have been the first people to come back to work as things started to ease up.”

While business in the UAE is picking up, Waked admitted that the various travel restrictions, including the temporary stop on travel into the Abu Dhabi emirate, had a huge impact.

“If you look at Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both have adopted slightly different regulations and this has impacted not just the cities, but inter-emirate travel,” he said.

“That was a big thing, people going from Dubai to Abu Dhabi has always been a big business for us and vice-versa. That came to a near, complete stop.”

As part of Uber’s continued journey towards affordability, the company launched UberSelect, its most affordable service, in Sharjah earlier this month. The move has already seen 70 drivers sign up in the first ten days.

“We look to expand in communities where mobility is something we can add value in and we can help people get around in a safer, more affordable and convenient way,” said Waked.

However, he revealed there were no immediate plans to bring the Uber Bus concept, which was launched as a world’s first in Egypt in 2018, to the Middle East region.

The service, which allows passengers to order a bus through the Uber app and has dynamic routing between or within cities, has since been expanded into the Ukraine and in Mexico.

Waked said: “These are the two other markets where we have Uber Bus now. Because it’s such a complex product we want to make sure we get all of the details of it right for it expanding later on in other markets, but we’re quite confident that we’ll get there soon.”

He added that the bus service was another strong indicator of the shift towards low-cost transport.

“I’m a strong believer in trying to lower the cost of mobility as much as possible and I think one really big bet that we’ve been working on and trying to scale as a global first out of the region has been Uber Bus because it is definitely a step change in terms of the cost of transportation and also helps us lower congestion on the road by having more people into less cars,” he said.

Another service destined for the region in the future is Uber Connect, again launched in Egypt in August, which is a same day, no-contact delivery solution that allows people to send packages, items and goods to others.

“We’re testing that product in Egypt. It’s still very early days, but quite encouraging. We’re very optimistic that we’re going to bring it to other markets quite soon,” said Waked.

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