How the sharing economy offers residents the UAE lifestyle on a budget

From cheaper entry to beach resorts to shared boats and bikes – a number of companies offer leisure perks at a lower cost

Faiza Shamim and her son Adam. Faiza is a new member of Privilee, the leisure membership app .
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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With a long summer in the UAE replacing her annual family trip home Faiza Shamim faced the costly prospect of keeping her young son entertained until school resumes.

Like many residents, she and husband Tarek shelved plans for cooler weeks spent elsewhere because of travel and health uncertainties brought by the pandemic.

Privilee fits all our needs, especially in the current economy; we were giving up a lot of things that we did not want to.

Ms Shamim, mum to five-year-old Adam, instead sought to utilise Dubai’s prime leisure spots – but without further straining family finances squeezed when Tarek's behavioural psychologist salary was reduced.

“We have had to make tough decisions and the first things to go are luxuries,” says the Canadian, based in Arjan, Dubai.

Among the cutbacks was the family's annual water park membership.

“Our son lives for going down water slides,” says Ms Shamim, who moved from Atlanta two years ago and usually spends the summer in Toronto.

She spotted a special summer membership deal from fitness and leisure app scheme Privilee offering unlimited access to UAE resorts, private pool and beach clubs, kids’ clubs, plus gym and fitness classes, along with spa and F&B deals.

At Dh1,599 per adult for three months, with complimentary access for up to three kids, depending on location, the scheme delivers sizeable savings when used regularly and compared against pool day entry costing anything from Dh100 to Dh400 per person. The rate is now Dh1,899.

“It fits all our needs, especially in the current economy; we were giving up a lot of things that we did not want to,” says Ms Shamim, who joined in June with her husband.

“The best news, as parents, is now kids zones at resorts are open and they are included in the package.”

The global sharing economy is growing as consumers aim to live more sustainable lives and save money by sharing possessions and services. In the UAE, Privilee is not the only shared asset business delivering the UAE lifestyle on a budget.

Captain's Club member Munther Al Bakri. Courtesy Gravity Real Estate

While Munther Al Bakri was observing UAE stay-home directives designed to contain Covid-19, he was dreaming of boating with his family. A friend mentioned The Captain's Club – a membership-based model that offers access to 85 boats across Dubai and Abu Dhabi marinas – and Mr Al Bakri joined in May.

“It was a saviour,” says the 41-year-old Jordanian, born and raised in Abu Dhabi.

“It is a phenomenal escape, and a safe decision that added great value to our family time together.”

The 2014-launched club pitches annual membership – from Dh15,000, plus a Dh7,000 joining fee – against the financial demands of boat ownership.

Mid-size boats cost about Dh200,000, plus Dh70,000 yearly for maintenance, storage, registration and insurance.

As managing partner of real estate and IT services entity Gravity Group, Mr Al Bakri recognised favourable economics.

“I am a businessman, I had to work out the numbers and the return is excellent for me as I do five to six trips per month,” says the Al Reem Island-based father of four.

“I owned a boat for almost two years and had to let go of it as more than half the time was spent preparing for the trip and taking care of the boat.”

For Privilee fan Ms Shamin, she values the flexibility it offers: being able to visit a resort as often as desired and leave early if the heat gets intense – versus buying individual day passes.

She says the family has already recouped their outlay, not least with her daily gym visits, and will continue to enjoy “the freedom and choice to visit a new resort every weekend for the rest of the summer and take advantage of things we love about living in Dubai without feeling guilty about spending a fortune during this time”.

Lars Johannesen - Privilee Founder_HOT , JBC 5, Office 2209, Cluster W, JLT  , Dubai   (photo by Ajith Narendra) ( ITP Images) ;05-09-2019_Privilee Founder_HOT

Founded in 2015 by Lars Johannesen, Privilee offers 50-plus resorts, more than 60 gyms and over 1,000 classes.

“One thing the crisis has caused is uncertainty,” says the chief executive, who paused regular memberships during the height of the crisis.

“Unfortunately, residents don’t know how long they are going to be in the region or they may have lost their job, so committing to an upfront annual membership may not be as appealing as it used to be. We recognised this and launched the three-month summer offer with flexible payment plans.”

Privilee has experienced a jump in sign-ups, particularly since Dubai pools and beaches reopened and residents accepted that overseas trips were unlikely.

Mr Johannesen says regular membership can work out at about Dh17 per day – while standard gym memberships alone average between Dh400 to Dh700 per month, or Dh100 per session. Weekend soft play centre visits can cost Dh100.

“Most people know they are going to be here for summer, so it’s a great pocket-friendly option for those who still want the holiday feeling but from home, or to use gyms, classes, kids clubs and pools on a daily basis without breaking the bank,” he adds.

Plus, driving footfall into resorts during usually quieter months represents a welcome boost for hoteliers and gym operators already hurting from the movement restrictions.

The Captain’s Club has also welcomed a healthy influx of new members during the pandemic.

Sales and marketing manager Bashar Mihyar anticipated this, having witnessed a similar pattern when the business operated through the 2015 oil price slump.

“Our team believed the behaviour of the public towards going out on the water would increase, especially with working-from-home policies and other outlets not being available,” he says, without revealing sign-up figures. “We actually saw this coming and prepared accordingly. Many joined to start a new hobby such as fishing, wake boarding or even yoga on the beach. Others joined to enjoy time with their loved ones.”

Mr Mihyar says membership saves 90 per cent of boat ownership costs and offers guaranteed daily availability, complimentary training for new members and refresher courses.

“There’s an old saying that goes, ‘the happiest two days of a man’s life is when he buys a boat and when he sells it’,” he says, adding that the club is the only boat owning alternative solution that offers access to a fleet "during these difficult times".

Careem Bike. NO CREDIT

The sharing economy is also supporting people wishing to cycle without buying a bike, be that through bike shop rentals or green hybrid offering Careem Bike.

The company’s 800 pedal-assisted machines are located at 80 ‘docking stations’, beside metro stations and tourist spots such as Dubai Marina, Dubai Water Canal and the Palm Jumeirah, and urban and business centres including Jumeriah Lakes Towers, The Greens and Media City.

Launched in February, hiring – through an app – has proved popular among occasional cyclists and those seeking to regularly ride between key areas.

Careem Bike offers short-term sessions across four membership structures; Dh420 annually, Dh75 monthly, Dh50 weekly or Dh20 for a day.

This allows multiple 45-minute trips. Close to expiry, users return to a docking station briefly to avoid a Dh10 extension fare.

“We have a diverse ridership that is a mix of young people, couples, and families,” says Gheed El Makkaoui, general manager of Careem UAE.

“Many repeat customers use our bikes for their daily commute; some users just enjoy a Careem Bike during weekends to travel around the Marina, for example, and others as their daily exercise routine.”

The service witnessed a spike in usage when curfew directives eased and people ventured out longer, some seeking a convenient, economical cycling option. Equivalent hybrid bikes can cost from Dh3,500.

“Careem Bike is a very affordable service … you do not need to worry about the bike, maintaining and storing it,” adds Ms El Makkaoui.

Ms Shamim, meanwhile, says her family has already got more than its money’s worth from their three-month Privilee package.

“It has made such a difference,” she says, adding: “There has not been a single day I have not used the membership.”