A report by Uber reveals Kiwis' mobility and food ordering habits have both returned to, and are better than, pre-Covid levels.
In a first of its kind report, Uber's local Movement Index shows New Zealand has almost made a full recovery. This country is among Australia, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong - the San Francisco-based ridesharing company's top five markets to have recovered the most since the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Dom Taylor, head of Uber for Australia and New Zealand, said the company's business in New Zealand had 90 per cent recovered in the year to January.
New Zealand's recovery had also outstripped that of Australia's, he said.
The Index outlined that Uber's local mobility business had recovered almost 90 per cent, while usage for airport trips had recovered 50 per cent despite international travel remaining off the cards indefinitely.
Its food delivery arm experienced growth on last year's levels and is now performing better than it was pre-pandemic.
Uber's ridesharing and food delivery business each make up about 50 per cent of operations in this market, in line with its global operations. This comes following rapid growth in the food delivery space, particularly in the last year, and since Uber Eats launched in NZ in 2017.
Taylor said Uber, like most delivery services and online retailers, had benefited from a significant uplift in food deliveries in 2020 as economies and movement stopped under mandatory lockdown orders.
"The delivery business never went backwards - it is well up on this time last year," he said.
The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research estimates that Uber Eats grows the size of the economy by approximately $162 million each year.
Food deliveries have increased month on month in regional New Zealand in Hastings, Napier, Rotorua and Palmerston North since Uber Eats' launch there in July 2020.
The report outlines that an influx of Kiwis are exploring their own backyards, with cities such as Tauranga and Queenstown experiencing a 1.3 per cent year-on-year increase in demand from locals moving about.
High demand for weekend trips have also continued to improve since initial alert level 3 and 4 restrictions were eased last year, while cities such as Christchurch, Hamilton and Tauranga have experienced a significant shift to rides in evening peak-times.
Cities in regional New Zealand, such as Hastings, have experienced a tripling of monthly trips since last July.
The index also revealed for the first time that 485,000 Kiwis are regularly taking trips with Uber across its 14 operating cities.
"While most weekday travel patterns have returned to pre-Covid levels, we're seeing an interesting shift in behaviours amongst Aucklanders, Canterburians, Hamiltonians, Taurangans and Wellingtonians who are choosing to work from home during the day, then head out to restaurants, cafes and bars during mealtimes and after work," said Taylor.
"We're also seeing really strong growth in tourist-based cities, in places like Queenstown and Tauranga, similarly that's what were seeing in the same data for Australia; with Hobart and Byron Bay the two biggest growth drivers in Australia."
Since the onset of the pandemic, the peak hour time for Uber rides has continually got later when compared with pre-Covid data, the Index outlined.
In Auckland, for example, peak ride times were 2-3pm in April 2020, 5-6pm in November and 6-7pm in December. In Christchurch and Hamilton, the December peak was 10-11pm.
"We certainly are seeing interesting shifts in people moving around their home cities versus moving around domestically. If you look at Wellington, there really hasn't been a great shift of New Zealand tourists into Wellington whereas - that's a contrast to Queenstown, where we've seen big rises in the split of rides between locals and domestic tourists between November and January," said Taylor.
Findings in the index were positive and signalled strong economic recovery, he said.
Taylor said Uber believed there was "much more growth ahead" for the company in the New Zealand market.
It expects the uplifts in food deliveries to continue long after the pandemic as more consumers have become accustomed to ordering food online for delivery.
"We launched in New Zealand in 2014 and since then we've continued to grow and set the standard in the industry. New Zealand is seen as a key market for us globally ... and we see it as we're still getting started and there is more we can do to improve the way cities work."