20220912 Salik CEO Ibrahim Al Haddad
Salik CEO Ibrahim Al Haddad Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: For a moment, let’s look beyond whether there will be new Salik toll gates in Dubai. Or whether there would be special lanes that drivers could take on toll roads for a higher rate as part of ‘surge pricing’. Let’s glance at the existing toll gates, because they will soon have special offers for you each time you drive past.

Targeted advertising and promotions will be what those gates will be empowered with, as Salik uses the power of data and a lot of AI to provide marketers with an understanding of who is driving past that particular toll gate at that time.

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Say, it’s just gone past the lunch hour. In the near future, F&B operators could offer drivers using the Sheikh Zayed Road gates or the one on Garhoud Bridge with meta-focused offers. Instantly. (And who knows, Driver X could be in for a different F&B choice being served up while Driver Y gets another. The possibility of targeted offers are seemingly endless.)

It needn’t be all restaurants and takeaway promotions. A 22-year-old would get info on fashion and accessory sales in the vicinity from brands that would be more in sync with her preferences, while a 45-year-old senior manager passing through the same road at the same time would get less of VFM fashion options and more of trendy upscale wear.

Forget billboards, the real deals on the roads will come from Salik.

How to participate in the Salik IPO

The possibilities are endless, depending on which road and toll gate you take, the time of day, and even the season. (The holiday season is looming and you are weighing the choice between travelling or booking a staycation deal. Pass by a gate, and you could conceivably get promotions extolling both options. Only you need to decide…) Ibrahim Al Haddad, CEO of Salik, is for now focusing exclusively on the IPO, subscriptions for which will open this week. The investors are ready to roll in with their funds, eager to sign up for Dubai’s third high-visibility IPO after DEWA and Tecom Group. But Al Haddad spares a few minutes to talk about things beyond the IPO.

Have you already started on the road to bringing in advertisers to offer special offers for Salik users?

Salik as a company is still relatively new, having come into being on July 1. The future business plans are still in the process of being put together - but that will happen soon.

With the IPO on, we have clearly mentioned all the ways that we could generate more revenues - and more growth for our shareholders. Yes, data monetisation will be an important part of it.

We have a director overseeing all our growth strategies, and will be responsible for initiating all the conversations we need to have with marketing partners to make future promotions matter to Salik users.

The concept of using data for targeted deals is straightforward. What needs to be done before we roll this out is have clear understanding on how this can be used.

Your fact-sheet shows Salik usage is growing steadily after the 2020 drop-off. You reckon that numbers will hit 2019 usage by this year-end?

2019 was exceptional, and we will need some more time to get to that point again. A year or two, the way 2022 numbers are projecting.

In 2019, total Salik trips were at 571 million, and that went down to 400 million in 2020, and improved to 481 million last year. In the period June to July 2022, we are at the 267 million mark.

We will benefit in full from strong macro-economic tailwinds Dubai is seeing. That will mean more growth opportunities for us, organic and inorganic.

The IPO is thus a unique opportunity for investors to benefit from Dubai’s growth story. And of Salik’s as part of that.

At the IPO launch event, you must have mentioned Salik being a ‘capex-lite’ company multiple times. Obviously, that’s a source of strength for you?

What this means is we are not responsible for the maintenance of the road networks. The toll gate operations - the way we have built and operated it - is low maintenance. What I mean by that is we went for full automation from the start and kept upgrading that.

This means we have a best-in-class cash conversion model, of 99.9 per cent. In other words, our capital expenditure to revenue is 0.1 per cent. We have predictable revenue flows, and clear projections on who best to capitalise on them. And shareholders will get the entire profit as dividend.

Salik has clearly started that all decisions on new toll gates and toll rates will be decided by RTA. That’s a constant?

The Roads and Transport Authority is the government entity with that mandate. RTA puts up its proposals on new gates and tariffs, and these will need to be approved by The Executive Council. That’s how it will work.

We are the custodian of the toll gates, but all the rest of it is firmly with the RTA. We are not in any way responsible for the roads.