Business practises vary greatly from country to country, and it’s important to know what to expect before diving into a new territory. In this edition of our Doing Business In… series, Victoria Boldison – Founder of Bolst Global and International Export Consultant – shares her experience for doing business in the Middle East.
I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit and build business connections with the Middle East, over the last decade. It is a wonderfully diverse region, with many opportunities for British brands to make a name for themselves.
Let me share with you some of the things that I have learnt first-hand from doing business in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.
Lying at the intersection of Africa and Eurasia, today the Middle East is made up of 18 countries stretching from Egypt in the West to Iran in the East. The total population of the area is 419 million, with the highest concentration in Egypt.
Close to the Tropic of Cancer, the climate of the Middle East is consistent throughout the year, with only two seasons; summer and winter. During the summer months, temperatures can soar above 50ºC, but it’s the humidity that can be most difficult to acclimatise to. I would recommend travelling between November and March to take advantage of the “cooler” time of year.
Travel to the Middle East from the UK is pretty easy these days, with several local airlines operating flights daily. Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest airport with almost 89 million people arriving on its runways each year; acting as a passage between the East and West. When it comes to travelling within the region, if you’re sticking to the major cities then a well-maintained infrastructure of motorways, internal flights, and huge investments into rail networks, will allow you to move around in comfort.
You won’t be stuck for accommodation choices either when travelling to the Middle East. You will see familiar names such as Hilton and Marriott, as well as local hotel chains such as Jumeirah, but make sure you pick your hotel wisely. Due to an influx in holiday makers making the Middle East their destination of choice, room rates can be incredibly high, so be sure to shop around to find the best deal. Plus of course I would recommend the taking a look at the Maiden Voyage approved hotels too as they can offer more assurance to female lone travellers or new visitors to this region.
Each country within the Middle East has its own currency so it’s important to bear this in mind if you’re planning to travel across the region in a single trip. Exchange rates should be considered too as the Kuwaiti Dinar, Bahrain Dinar, Oman Rial, and Jordan Dinar are currently the top four most expensive currencies in the world.
A number of languages are spoken throughout the Middle East. Those with the highest population of first language speakers are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Hebrew. When it comes to doing business though, English is widely used so you shouldn’t experience any communication problems here.
The first, and possibly the most important, thing you should know about doing business in the Middle East is that relationships, trust, and patience will get that contract signed so be prepared to adapt your usual approach to the local idiosyncrasies. Dedicate time to establishing mutual trust and understanding, don’t rush meetings, respect your elders, and be formal and respectful in all communications. Read more about Middle Eastern culture here.
Before packing your suitcase there are two important things to consider: the climate and the culture. Regardless of the time of year you travel, it’s going to be warm – if not, hot – so be sure to wear light-weight fabrics like linen, in neutral colours that reflect the light. Modesty is key when travelling through the region. You should make sure your sleeves reach below the elbow, and that your skirt, dress or trouser hems reach the ankles especially In the more conservative markets of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Avoid tight-fitting clothes, and keep a scarf to hand, to cover your head just in case you feel more comfortable wearing it.
When It comes to Saudi Arabia then the law has recently changed for non Muslim women visiting the country meaning an abaya, the traditional black robe, Is not longer a legal requirement to wear. Having said that and at present when the country Is still transitioning Into new customs and acceptance of changes such as this I would advise women to continue to observe the wearing of the abaya when In market. And It certainly makes the decision making of what to wear and what to pack significantly easier!
Many people have asked me if I feel safe travelling in the Middle East, and I have to say I really do! Of course, there will always be some level of instability, whether political or cultural, so staying on top of the latest travel advice for the region is recommended. If you have time to take in the history, architecture and local culture then make sure you book yourself a place in a tour group, so you get to know the area. And finally, before you travel, check which ride-share companies operate in the area so you can travel safely from place to place, especially after dark.
Victoria is a multi-award-winning Chartered Marketer and international business professional, having worked internationally for all of her career within the start-up and SME environment. Her company, Bolst Global, has helped businesses of every size succeed overseas, particularly in the Middle East. Victoria’s team has recently launched Bolst’s first online, market access programme for companies looking to enter the United Arab Emirates. Maiden Voyage readers can receive a 10% discount, simply use code MV10 at the checkout. You can find out more about doing business in the UAE here.