April 14, 2020
By Maya Itani
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across every country in the world. In the UAE, the government has taken swift measures to stem the spread of the virus, and residents are complying with movement restrictions to flatten the curve together. While this is needed from a health perspective, the situation has resulted in immense pressure on businesses, as most have been required to shut their outlets and those who can still operate are facing drastically reduced demand.
Times of crisis like the one we’re living in can be moments of intense overwhelm, but they also serve as springboards for innovation. In the UAE, we’ve seen wonderful examples of this in service of supporting the community. Below is a small selection that may inspire you to implement some initiatives in your own communities.
New Website Protects Restaurant Margin
Third party delivery apps have become ubiquitous in Dubai, with delivery bikes ruling the streets. Their simple ordering process has made us all reliant upon them, as we are able to select our food, pay for it, and track its whereabouts without ever talking to another human. However, these businesses take a steep percentage of all sales they secure for restaurants, sometimes as high as 30%. With dine-in restrictions now in place, restaurants have unfortunately become even more dependent on the apps at a time when preserving margin is crucial.
To support the restaurants, local food reviewer FoodSheikh and ChatFood quickly mobilized to create a new platform called supportlocalrestaurants.com, which allows restaurants to secure online orders commission free. Over 300 outlets have signed up to the website, and residents have flocked to the site to help these business owners maintain their margins to pay their bills and more importantly pay staff.
CAFU Contributes to the Frontline
Continuing on the same delivery theme, CAFU, the region’s first on-demand petrol delivery service, has made life in the fast-paced city much easier since its launch. Residents are able to log into the app from the comfort of their couches and request a visit from a gas truck instead of lining up for ages at congested stations.
At the end of March, the innovative company announced it also wanted to ease the pressure on front-liners, and that it would do so by providing free petrol to ambulances from Dubai Corporations for Ambulance Services for a period of two weeks.
Rashid Al Ghurair, Founder and CEO of CAFU, said that CAFU is proud to support the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services to help ensure their ambulance services can operate without interruption. “It is important to come together as a community and support each other during this critical time,” he added.
Zen Yoga Keeps Essential Workers Moving
As movement is restricted around the world, maintaining physical health has been top of mind for people around the world. More people are working out in their living rooms, kitchens, hallways, or wherever they have space! Fitness providers have been innovating to migrate their classes online, some offering them on a paid basis and others offering them for free.
Zen Yoga is one of the UAE’s best-known brands for yoga and Pilates. As a local leader in the field, the company recognizes its responsibility to give back to the community in this time of need. The studio chain announced that all essential workers including healthcare workers, law enforcement, delivery drivers, transit drivers or anyone who works in food production and distribution will have access to unlimited free online classes. Email email@example.com to learn more.
Marketing through a Crisis
Marketing is often the first line of the budget that gets cut when SMEs come under financial pressure, and ironically it is one of the few things that can help them weather the storm. UAE based PR professionals Natasha-Hatherall-Shawe of TishTash Marketing & PR and Chloe Ragg of Fox & Hound Communications recognized this and came together to create the SME RISE COLLECTIVE a new cluster of professionals that will come together to support SMEs across the UAE.
The concept works through a sponsorship model in which donors from within the community can contribute as little as AED100 ($27.23) to purchase a PR and marketing package for an SME. SMEs can then apply to receive this support at no cost to them, while the registered agencies and freelancers will provide pre-determined services that best apply to the applicant. Through this set up, community members can support the survival of both local SMEs and agencies.
#StayHome and #KeepBusy
The UAE is carrying out a National Disinfection Program in which the streets and buildings are sprayed daily to combat the coronavirus, and thus residents have been asked to limit movement to essential needs such a groceries, medicine, and hospital visits. While staying at home all day sounded great before the pandemic, the novelty wears off quickly!
Standish Services, a web development agency in the UAE, saw a need to provide inspiration for residents and set up keepbusy.ae, a website that offers both free and paid activities for people to try at home to stay occupied. The website is completely free to use for both providers and users, and Standish Services do not make any profit from the activities even though providers may be charging a fee. The activities are varied and include fitness, calligraphy, kids’ activities, mindfulness, coaching, trivia quizzes, and more.
While there has been much to mourn during the last few weeks, the above examples are only a few of the initiatives that are giving us reason to celebrate and the comfort of knowing that our business community will always be there to support each other even in the most difficult moments.
Maya Itani is the Managing Director of Itani & Company Marketing Consultants, an outsourced marketing firm based in the United Arab Emirates that she founded in 2015. With 13 years of experience in multinational brand management and entrepreneurship, Maya capitalizes on her experience working with both large entities and SMEs to help companies of all sizes build brands that build businesses.