Uber Tests Car Booking App in Hong Kong to Tap Wealthy Travelers

Mar 27, 2014 11:11 pm ET

March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. plans to introduce its car-booking application to cities including Hong Kong, Beijing and Jakarta this year to tap growing demand from wealthy travelers.

The San Francisco-based company is looking to hire and work with local limousine and chauffeur companies in those cities, Sam Gellman, head of Asia expansion at Uber, said in an interview. The three-day trial service starts today in Hong Kong, timed to coincide with the annual Sevens rugby tournament.

Uber, backed by Google Inc.’s investment arm and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, has expanded in Asia, establishing operations in about 20 cities, including Shanghai and Tokyo. The company targets customers who will pay a premium for the luxury of tracking the vehicle’s approach, not handling local cash and finding daily newspapers and a Wi-Fi network inside the car. That sets it apart from Tencent Holdings Ltd., Asia’s largest Internet company, which invested in a local taxi-booking app in January.

“We find out who the five-star hotels are working with,” Gellman said. “That level of service was always reserved for hotel guests, executives and celebrities, so we go to these cities, find the cars and make them available to everybody.”

The startup usually hires three people in each new city -- one dealing with chauffeurs, one with customers and one with company financials. Uber has about 700 employees globally and about 50 in Asia, according to Gellman.

Luxury in Minutes

Uber operates in about 80 cities around the world. Gellman declined to disclose annual revenue.

“So many of our global users are here in Asia,” Gellman said. “With our app, if you’re Chinese, Korean or wherever you are, you can go to Paris and Dubai and have an app in your native language and connect you with a driver who will be at your address within minutes.”

Passengers can use the Uber app to book cars with their smartphone. Their payment is processed with a preloaded credit card or by the third-party system Alipay if the customers are in China.

The drivers will usually open the door for customers, provide water and newspapers in the back seat, and have Wi-Fi setup in their vehicles, Gellman said. For that service, users pay a typical premium of at least 75 percent more than local taxi fares, he said.