Following the hard hit received by businesses worldwide, including in Egypt, due to the coronavirus outbreak, business owners had to accommodate new working plans to deal with the new challenges.
General Manager of Uber Egypt Ahmed Khalil shares with Ahram Online the current and future plan of the biggest ride-hailing operator in Egypt and its investments in the domestic market.
Ahram Online: How do you assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Egypt’s business-doing scene?
AK: The pandemic has impacted many industries around the world, including the ride-sharing sector in Egypt. There has been a major shift in the transport behaviour in general, due to new safety measures and government restrictions, such as curfews and lockdowns, as well as the public’s concern about virus transmission.
This resulted in a change in users’ habits, where the need for access to safe and convenient modes of transportation is now higher than ever.
Driven by a growing sense of social responsibility, we launched several initiatives and safety features to support the community during these critical times.
AO: What are Uber Egypt's initiatives to support the community during the pandemic?
AK: We launched Uber Medics in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Health, which is a programme that supports the medical sector and frontliners with free and discounted trips to help curb the spread of the virus.
In addition, Uber partnered with several community foundations to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities, including the Egyptian Red Crescent, where we supported 2,000 volunteers with access to transportation by providing 4,000 free trips, and Ahl Masr Foundation, where we provided logistical support by offering more than 1,000 free trips for 70 agents to help them collect donations for patients.
Uber also prioritised safety and adapting to the new normal through launching safety measures and a new on-trip protocol in Egypt as the country began to reopen and people began to move again, including the distribution of over 300,000 masks across the region so far, with plans to continue this as needed, the distribution of free sanitisers for drivers, the placement of sanitiser dispensers in buses, and free vehicle disinfection services, the rollout of a new in-app feature that confirms if drivers are wearing face masks before they begin receiving trip requests, mandating face masks on both riders and drivers following the government’s COVID-19 guidance, reducing the maximum seating capacity to three riders, and encouraging them to sit in the back for distancing purposes.
AO: How did the pandemic affect Uber Egypt's business?
AK: COVID-19 redefined the norm, and as cities began to reopen when the curfew was lifted, we all had to accept the new normal and cater for our users’ changing needs while focusing on increasing drivers’ earnings.
The ride-sharing sector in the MENA region is observing a positive recovery, where Uber’s business recovered by more than 65 percent in Egypt compared to pre-coronavirus times.
At Uber, we worked quickly to amend our 2020 plans to coexist with COVID-19, while keeping two things in mind: safety remains a top priority; and adapting our technology to expand our product portfolio to meet the needs of the new normal through launching new products.
These products include Uber Connect, which is a delivery tec solution for the transportation of goods, Uber Black, which is a premium product that is available at Cairo International Airport aiming at reviving the travel and tourism sectors in Egypt that were impacted by COVID-19, in addition to the Intercity Bus Service, which is a convenient setting to move users between governorates in Uber Bus. The new service currently offers roundtrip routes between Cairo and Alexandria.
AO: What is the volume of Uber investments in the region and in Egypt?
AK: Uber has been a leading economic contributor in Egypt and a significant investor in the MENA region. Since Uber was launched in 2014, we’ve provided more 200,000 economic opportunities and facilitated convenient rides to more than four million riders through Uber platform.
In October 2017, Uber chose Egypt to launch its Centre of Excellence, the largest support hub in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, with a $20 million investment to grow the support function to provide 24/7 assistance to all riders and drivers across 14 countries. In 2018, Uber decided to invest another $100 million over five years.
For Uber’s geographical presence in Egypt, we are currently serving 11 cities, covering more than 50 percent of Egypt’s governorates with a wide product portfolio including X, Select, Black, Bus, and Scooter. We remain committed to Egypt and will continue to invest in this dynamic market with the strategy of introducing convenient modalities to best meet the market's needs while creating more economic opportunities for drivers.
AO: What are the challenges facing Uber’s business in the domestic market, and how can Uber overcome them?
AK: Turning challenges into opportunities is in Uber’s DNA: whenever we see a challenge, we see an opportunity to grow. During these tough times, we were able to design features and products to overcome some of the challenges. For example, when users (drivers and riders) felt unsafe to move around the city, we added additional safety features, as mentioned earlier, to our platform to help them feel comfortable enough to move when they had to during COVID-19, such as distributing free face masks and offering free vehicle disinfections to drivers, and allowing free cancellation to riders or drivers for safety concerns.
When the country opened up, some people still chose to learn to coexist with the virus, but others chose to remain home with precautions. For those on the move, or travelling, we launched more safety features for the new normal, but for those who are home, we launched Connect to help serve and make life easier for them.
AO: What are Uber’s future plans in Egypt?
AK: Egypt is one of the fastest growing markets for Uber. We see it as an innovation hub and a fantastic environment for testing new products, which is why Uber chose Egypt twice to be the first country globally to roll out new products: the intracity and intercity bus services. It’s important to highlight that following its success in Egypt, Uber Bus expanded to Ukraine and Mexico in 2019 as a transportation solution that addresses the need for low-cost services.
Egypt is highly important to Uber globally, and we will continue to heavily invest in this dynamic part of the world by building products that meet the local need.
AO: Does Uber consider continuing UberEats service that stopped in Egypt and the region due to the pandemic?
AK: The tough decision to discontinue UberEats in eight markets globally was completely a business decision, allowing us to commit further energy and resources to our top Eats markets around the world.
However, we currently remain committed to growing and investing in Uber’s mobility platform in Egypt and the Middle East.
AO: What about Uber’s intention to be all-electric fleet by 2040?
AK: COVID-19 shutdowns gave us a glimpse of what life could be like with fewer cars, less pollution and cleaner air, and we don’t want to go back to “business as usual.” Uber has a responsibility to do more and do better. We want to drive a green recovery in cities and do our part to confront the climate change crisis by introducing new products, programmes, and commitments to become a zero-emissions platform.