Show 40 – Attracting Businesses and Tourists to the UAE

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Show 40 focused on the UAE and in particular, we looked at what’s being done to attract both businesses and tourists there.

Russell Goldsmith spoke to two guests online from the UAE.  Hamdi Kulahcioglu, the General Manager of luxury store, TRYANO (at the time of recording) and Alex Malouf, P&G’s Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula (at the time of recording).

Hamdi Kulahcioglu, General Manager, TRYANO

Hamdi kicked off the show explaining that TRYANO is based in the Yas Mall on Yas Island, 30mins from Abu Dhabi and about an hour from Dubai.  The island is a huge entertainment destination, made famous mainly from the F1 race that has taken place around the marina each year since 2009.  However, further development is continuing in the area, including the building of more hotels and a Warner Bros theme park opening in 2018.  Next to Yas Island is Saadiyat Island, which is being designed to become a cultural centre with new museums and art galleries opening soon.

The focus of the chat with Hamdi though, was to look at the region as a destination for luxury shopping, referencing a new Global Luxury Retail report that was featured on the Retail Gazette.  The report said that London saw a total of 41 new luxury openings in 2016 compared to 36 in Paris, 31 in both New York and Dubai, and 24 in Milan and that this was off the back of a CBRE and Walpole report that named London as the world’s top destination for luxury retail, saying that it holds the greatest long-term potential for the sector compared to similar luxury hotspots despite the worries surrounding Brexit.

Hamdi agreed that London is a very important destination for luxury retail.  However, naturally, he believes UAE, especially Dubai, is also a very important luxury shopping destination and that Abu Dhabi is on track to become the same.   He explained that the retail experience, in terms of shopping mega malls in the UAE, of which there are more than 50, is probably the best in the world and that the growth in Abu Dhabi is twice that of Dubai with regards to the number of tourists visiting – about 5m in 2016 registering around 12m guest nights – but with a new airport being built in the region, scheduled to open in 2019, this number will dramatically increase even further.

To attract these visitors to TRYANO, Hamdi said the store tries to create the ultimate experience for their guests – with a focus on the family.  For example, in their kid’s floor, they have a working carousel and a treehouse, amongst other things for the kids to be entertained.  They then have a restaurant called La Pâtisserie des Rêves, a concept imported from Paris, plus a photo studio, private make-up rooms and even a bag spa, to get your bag cleaned or repaired.

The interview moved on to the subject of how TRYANO is using social media and in particular, working with social influencers, to help attract visitors to the store and Hamdi talked through how they exclusively partnered with the actress Meryem Uzerli and six regional influencers to achieve this, by creating looks from Meryem’s new beauty kit.

He said that their audience is relatively young (median age in the region is around 27) and that they are highly connected using social media very actively.  Therefore, the direction of TYRANO’s marketing is going more digital, with a focus on the most popular channels in the region, Facebook and Instagram, more so than Twitter, where their followers are highly engaged with the brand.  However, partnering with Meryem was a great way to attract new visitors (she has over 4.3m likes on her Facebook page and over 3m on Instagram).

Alex Malouf, P&G Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula

In the second half of the show, Russell spoke with Alex Malouf of P&G and they started off discussing how diverse the UAE is in terms of culture, language and religion.  Alex said that you have to bear all this in mind when you reach out to different stakeholder groups when creating communications campaigns and generally doing business across the region.  He added that you also need to look at the channels to reach your audiences, making the point that, whilst traditional media plays a part, social media is massive in the region.  Alex also said that it’s a major advantage if you can speak Arabic, particularly if going outside of a hub like Dubai but particularly if you are dealing with Government, where he said 99% would be native Arabic speakers.  Learning the language though, according to Alex, will give you a glimpse into the culture too and help you understand how people think and behave and therefore what you can do to craft communications messages to them.

As for British businesses looking to expand into the region, Russell talked about the findings of some research carried out in March across 500 UK business owners by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which found that since the Brexit vote, 42% of business owners have more of an appetite now to expand their business overseas, with the larger the business, the more that appetite increases – rising to 63%, 68% and then 72% for businesses with 100-250, 250-500 and 500+ employees.

Europe came top in the potential destination with 12% already operating there but a further 67% considering expanding there, but for the Middle East region, whilst 7% of businesses surveyed already operated there, a further 38% were considering expanding to the area, and of those, 75% would consider Dubai as their destination.

According to Alex, there are a number of reasons that Dubai is top of the list when it comes to businesses choosing a location in the region:

  • Logistics – there are a number of different options to get to Dubai, with the international airport being one of the biggest in the world
  • Culture and language – English is used widely in business and entertainment
  • Easy to adapt – whilst there is still a strong local culture, many people don’t engage with it and therefore it doesn’t impact foreigners to the region in the same way the Saudi culture may
  • Legal aspects of setting up in Dubai
  • Home comforts – you can still get a sandwich from Marks & Spencer at lunchtime!

Russell then quizzed Alex on the fact that, whenever the UK looks to work with countries in the region, and the Prime Minister or any leading government official visits or is seen to be negotiating with a country there, such as Qatar or Saudi, there is an immediate backlash on social media, with comments being raised about issues such as Human Rights.

Alex’s response to this was that people have to strike a balancing act as the UAE and neighbouring countries are obviously very different to the UK and Europe and people have to be aware of that.  He said that people in the region will bristle when they are criticised, but of course these are important considerations for any business, and so it’s a case of being aware of how best to approach these subjects.  His advice therefore, is to, by all means raise those concerns, but in an environment where the person you are addressing doesn’t feel they are being insulted or offended.

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