Uber Launches Travel Feature to Grab MENA Market Share


Uber has launched Uber Travel in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The first announcement came on Tuesday (Jan. 3) when Uber revealed that “Smart Itineraries” would be available to users in Egypt, marking the first time a feature from the Uber Travel suite was made available in the MENA region.

Hot off the back of that announcement, on Wednesday (Jan. 4), the ride-hailing company launched the same feature in Saudi Arabia, enabling users there to link their Google account to the Uber app and sync their travel plans for easier booking.

Designed to make booking a ride easier, Smart Itineraries enables travelers to import their trip details to the Uber app and then book rides in advance for the entire trip. For example, rather than having to separately hail a ride each time they arrive at an airport or leave a hotel, users can book all these in advance of each trip.

Building on the success of similar schemes elsewhere, Uber announced in October that it had partnered with Dubai airport to allow drivers to better serve air passengers with dedicated pickup and staging areas.

Drivers who want to pick passengers from the airport must first wait in the exclusive Uber staging area where they are placed in a virtual queue to be assigned a ride. Once they have accepted an airport trip request, they can then make their way to one of the airport’s pickup locations to pick up their passenger.

Demand for Services Hits New Heights

Uber’s latest MENA expansion follows a surge in demand for ride-hailing services during the FIFA World Cup that spread from Qatar to the wider Middle East region.

For example, Careem, which is owned by Uber but operates its ride-hailing business separately, boosted its Qatar fleet with an additional 1,000 vehicles to coincide with the tournament. It also launched a new service connecting Qatar to Saudi Arabia, enabling people to book rides between the two neighboring countries.

Once the dust had settled on the World Cup, Uber released a statement in December outlining an “unprecedented” boost in activity created by the influx of visitors to Qatar.

The ride-hailing company noted that during the event 2.6 million riders moved around Qatar, while nearly 442,000 trips were requested to and from the eight stadiums that hosted the World Cup games.

Apart from Uber and Careem, smaller ride-hailing players in the MENA region have also been vying for a share of the market.

For example, Algeria’s Yassir has thrived due to the absence of international players in the country, securing a significant $150 million Series B funding round in November to become one of the most valuable startups to come out of North Africa.

Already operational in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Germany, France and Canada, Yassir said it would use the latest funding to expand its footprint in the MENA region.

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