How to get around Southeast Asia with the top ride-sharing apps

How to get around Southeast Asia with the top ride-sharing apps

  • Ride-sharing began with the humble horse and carriage way back in 1605.
  • Grab acquired Uber in Southeast Asia in 2018 and it has a monopoly in most countries – but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option.
  • Business travellers can earn reward points on their ride-share commutes.

We are truly living in a hyper-connected world – due to not just the freedom and speed of modern travel, but also the globalisation of the business marketplace. Whether you’re an entrepreneur just beginning your startup journey, an established small business owner, or flying high in the C-suite of a larger enterprise, business travel is essential to company growth.

While in the early days that often means journeying to new cities in your region or even interstate, we’re seeing more and more operations attempt to penetrate the lucrative Asian market. This is unsurprising given a recent Australian Government insights paper on the substantial growth prospects of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

So when you need to spend all your time and energy on locking in those client meetings and presentations, you don’t want to be stressed about having to hire a car, navigate in a new environment, or take the wheel in an unfamiliar vehicle.

The alternative? Ride-sharing apps. Not only do they free you up to put the finishing touches on your pitch deck on the way to meetings, but businesses are actually saving money by using apps like Uber rather than hiring expensive business vehicles for their commutes.

Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about using ride-sharing apps in Southeast Asia (SEA).

A brief history of ride-sharing apps

Road filled with taxis in New York

You might think ride-sharing only really began when Uber hit the scene with its inaugural limousine service way back in 2010, but they are far from the original cab. In fact, history has it that the first-ever taxi service launched at the start of the 17th century (with horse and carriage, of course).

Then in 1908, the first car-based yellow cabs began a taxi revolution, and it essentially stayed the same way – not including modern transport developments – for over a century.

But the boom in technology has touched almost every facet of our daily lives, and when Uber began in earnest in the 2010s, every man and his dog in Silicon Valley raced to jump on the ride-share bandwagon. Within a couple of years there were several major players – though none more profitable than Lyft and UberX – and nowadays you can take advantage of dozens of popular ride-sharing apps no matter where you are in the world.

In Australia we have the mainstays, but also steady players like Ola and Bolt (formerly Taxify). While we tend to navigate towards our preferences depending on factors like cost, reliability and how many drivers are in our vicinity, it’s harder to tell which apps are the best in foreign countries.

That’s why we’re breaking down some of the popular options in Southeast Asia, so you can get on with business without worrying about getting from Point A to Point B in SEA.

Aber – Vietnam

Aber Vietnam ridesharing helmets
Nikkei Asian Review

Recent reports put international visitors to Vietnam rising by 21% year-on-year to over 15 million people. That’s a lot of travellers, made even more interesting by Grab’s acquisition of Uber in Southeast Asia just one year ago.

Designed to challenge the Grab giant, Aber is the brainchild of a group of Vietnamese engineers who studied in Germany. Like all true entrepreneurs, they spotted a gap in the market and offer a range of services: Aber Bike, Aber Car, Aber Track, Aber Business, and more.

The good: The sheer range of services means there will be plenty of driving options for your needs – and given the amount of motorbikes in Vietnam, there’s always Aber Bike for when you’re running late.

The not-so-good: Having only been available since October 2018, it’s difficult to say whether Aber will be able to survive the unique challenges of the Vietnamese ride-sharing market – as well as stand up to the might of Grab.

Grab – Singapore

Grab ridesharing app motorbikes

Arguably the most technologically-developed nation in SEA, Singapore is as fast-paced as it is humid. But getting around the island nation needn’t be a hassle with Grab, offering a massive network of taxis, ride-shares, buses and more.

The good: Easy to get a ride within a couple of minutes, thanks to the density and size of Singapore.

The not-so-good: Taxis are still extremely popular in Singapore, and you might actually end up paying more with a ride-sharing app like Grab.

Go-Jek – Indonesia

Go-Jek ridesharing Indonesia

Based in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, you might have heard about Go-Jek as it was the country’s first ‘unicorn’ (valued at $1 billion). It’s since spread to other countries in SEA, but it has something of a stranglehold on the Indonesian ride-sharing market, so your best bet is to stick with the popular choice – it’s even more popular than Grab, which is saying something.

The company value exceeds $5 billion, so at least you know there’s plenty of money in the app – which means lots of drivers available.

The good: A monopoly on the ride-sharing market (along with Grab) means you’ll never be without a host of drivers nearby.

The not-so-good: The company itself has been in hot water recently with claims from drivers that their employer isn’t fulfilling its duties (namely, training drivers and eliminating income taxes). While that won’t affect your travel options, it may impact your decision from a social standpoint.

Grab Share or MiCab – Philippines

MiCab ridesharing Philippines

The Philippines is the new hot location for Aussie businesses. A recent survey (March 2019) by the Australian-ASEAN Chamber of Commerce found that it is now the preferred ASEAN region for Aussie expansion. 

If you’re looking to hit the ground in the Philippines, then you’ll want someone familiar with the streets to navigate you to your next business meeting. Grab is far and away the monopoly in the Philippines, and Grab Share, in particular, is a great cheap option as it lets the driver pick up other commuters along the way.

MiCab, on the other hand, is a smaller operator but it does service the major Philippines areas of Manila, Davao, Iloilo and Cebu. The problem here is that it simply can’t compete with Grab at the moment, which means you might struggle to find a driver at times. What’s most interesting about MiCab, though, is that it doesn’t make all of its money from users. As well, it generates cash flow from brands that want to reach the app’s user base.

The good: Ride-sharing in the Philippines is super-affordable even for locals, so you’ll no doubt be happy with the cheap cost of entry. Grab drivers are courteous and their cars are well-maintained compared to regular taxis. You’ll usually only have to wait five minutes or so for pick-up. 

The not-so-good: There have been reports that it’s frustrating to book MiCab rides during peak times, especially if you’re not in Metro Manila. But perhaps the biggest drawback for ride-sharing in the Philippines is that the government wants to regulate it, which is creating issues around permits, paying fees and registration. Watch this space as there may be big changes to ride-sharing in the country over the coming months.

DiDi – China

DiDi sign ridesharing China

While not technically part of Southeast Asia, we’re giving this special dispensation due to the fact that:

  • China is experiencing rapid growth – and there’s no clear end in sight. That means plenty of Australian businesses are attempting to set up shop in the enigmatic Asian superpower; and
  • You might already be familiar with DiDi, as it was recently released in Melbourne, Geelong and Newcastle.

With over 12 million daily users, it’s no surprise that DiDi is pretty much your one and only option in terms of ride-sharing in China, but you can also hail a cab from the side of the road.

On the subject of cabs, taxi services in Hong Kong are known to be loud and impersonal, whereas in mainland China cabs have a reputation for being dangerous and there’s a heavy language barrier. Ride-sharing is far and away the business traveller’s best option as it provides a fail-free way to get around the country (with an all-important added sense of security).

The good: There’s now an English-language version of the app so business travellers can use it without flying blind.

The not-so-good: Even though the app is now in English, there’s still likely to be a major language barrier with drivers. Depending on your risk tolerance, it might be wiser to pay a little extra for an English-speaking taxi service.

Take it to the next level with reward points

In Australia, you can earn points by paying with a rewards credit card no matter how you travel, including ride-sharing. But you can also collect extra Qantas Frequent Flyer Points when taking an Uber to and from selected airports around the country.

In Southeast Asia, Blacklane has partnered with several major airlines to offer rewards points for using their ride-sharing service. You can find plenty of Blacklane drivers if doing business in Singapore, in particular.

If you regularly fly to different countries in and around SEA then you might want to investigate GrabRewards, with exclusive deals for travel to and from airports. Considering how widespread Grab is throughout the region, some loyalty to this brand may reap major reward hauls over the long term.

Finally, if you link your business credit card to your chosen ride-sharing app while overseas, you can earn points in whatever program you’re most invested in.

For example, earn Qantas points on regular business expenses with the NAB Qantas Business Signature Card. Or maybe you’re all about those Amex points, in which case you can earn up to 2.25 points for every $1 spent with the American Express Platinum Business Card.

Ride-sharing and a business credit card with rewards points – a winning combination for Aussies doing business in Southeast Asia.