Uber Middle East non-commuter demand recovers despite coronavirus: Region head

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Uber’s non-commuter trips have already returned to pre-coronavirus levels, said Tino Waked, the Regional General Manager - Middle East & Africa at Uber, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

The COVID-19 pandemic sharply curtailed the demand for ride-hailing services like Uber and its Dubai-based subsidiary Careem earlier this year as governments across the region instituted strict stay-at-home lockdown rules in a bid to combat the spread of the deadly virus.

Most of these rules across the region have since been lifted. Many businesses, however, continue to have their employees working from home, a challenge to a company such as Uber that relies on commuter traffic for business.

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“When you look at the Uber service, I think we can segment it in two big ways. One is commute trips, and non-commute trips. We've seen non-commute trips come back a lot faster. However, commute trips have definitely been lagging behind because a lot of work has also changed,” Waked said.

“A lot of people are working from home, a lot of businesses are not fully up and running yet. So the traditional use case of commute, we have not seen that come back to the levels that it was at pre-COVID levels,” he added.

When asked as to when demand for travel will return to pre-COVID heights, Waked noted that in some countries, such as Egypt, demand had nearly recovered.

“That is the million dollar question. I think we're actively focusing on use case by use case, we've seen it be very different across the different countries. But the very positive news is that we're seeing very strong recovery from the lows where we were at, during the lowest periods, I think, towards the end of March or early April. So some markets are near full recovery,” he said.

However, demand for Uber’s products has changed, with its lower-cost services seeing higher demand as consumers become more price conscious in the face of the global recession caused by the pandemic.

“It's very difficult to predict, the timeline depends country by country. We have countries where we're seeing very positive recovery countries that are coming back slower. But in general, non-commuter is recovering faster than commute. And we're focusing on just making sure that we accelerate the recovery across the board,” Waked explained.

Uber taxi product ‘thrived’ in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, authorities stopped all ride-hailing services from operating for several weeks. Saudi nationals that were working as drivers for ride-sharing applications, like Uber and Careem, received government financial support, with drivers qualifying for the equivalent of three months of salary.

As with other markets, Uber has seen an increase in demand for its lower-cost products, Waked explained.

“As you can imagine, people during the pandemic are more and more price sensitive. We have a taxi product in Saudi Arabia that has been doing extremely well, but has actually thrived as part of the pandemic,” he said.

With COVID-19 dampening demand for its traditional ride-hailing business, Uber has also responded by launching new products in the region, including Uber Connect, which is aimed at allowing customers to send items to each other.

“We launched a product called Uber Connect, which you can basically use to send things between friends, you can basically ask the driver to buy something on the way. We've launched as well, in some places across the region, a product called Uber Direct where we partner with ecommerce companies and with just companies in general that want to send things around, because that's the use case that we've really seen come up throughout the pandemic,” Waked said.

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