MENA is beginning to open up after a very strict lockdown.
Irish companies need to be aware of market differences in the region.
There is scope for movement in the health and safety, education and healthcare industry.
Communication and innovation is the key to success.
Covid-19 has most certainly changed the world as we know it – and as many countries are beginning to lift restrictions, markets are changing rapidly with dynamics shifting as everyone tries to adapt to the new normal.
Mike Hogan, Regional Manager for MENA says Ireland has long had a healthy business relationship with the Middle East and North Africa and as the region begins to open up, he encourages Irish businesses to be aware of how things have changed.
“Everyone knows that Covid-19 has brought about a special set of circumstances, an unprecedented Black Swan Incident,” he says. “At home, Enterprise Ireland is working with clients in a tailored manner to help them make changes to their business models in order to survive.
“But circumstances are different overseas and we have been offering continuity to clients in order to help them find new ways to communicate and keep informed about what is happening in terms of delivering their service and product.
“It’s so important to understand the dynamics of the market and the situation end users are facing. Much of this is similar to Ireland, but there are specific market differences so on a simplistic level, business models need to be tweaked and companies must begin to look forward to the new normal.”
This may take some time as much of the region has been completely shut down for the past few months.
“Many of the measures taken to combat the effects of Covid-19 across the Middle East may have seemed draconian from an Irish perspective,” says the regional manager. “There were 24-hour curfews with people only allowed out to go to the chemist or buy groceries and at the height of the restrictions, people could only leave the house once every three days.
“This has impacted the economy, especially as many places rely on tourism and international transport, so the shutting down of airspace, apart from cargo flights, has had an impact. And of course from an Irish perspective, this has had consequences on how goods are brought to market and how much it costs.
“So the new normal will involve an unwinding of these measures as well as a change in logistics, markets and communication. Nothing worries clients more than silence and people will remember who did business with them during the hard times and will reflect on who stood by them when their business was in jeopardy.”
But while the MENA region has been severely impacted by the crisis, Mike Hogan says there is still plenty of opportunity to be had.
“We are going through a bad time at moment, but Irish companies can have an impact as they have solutions which will fit in very well,” he says.
“And while countries like Saudi, for example, had cut back on infrastructure, the continuing increase in population, means that it continues to add new hospital beds every year, just to keep up with population growth, and increased capacity will increase healthcare opportunities ”
Indeed, Hogan says that healthcare and education will generate opportunities as countries across the region begin to open up and get their economies and their population back to some sort of normality.
And due to a diverse demographic, the Gulf region is also an ideal location for companies to test the waters and trial a new product or service.
“The region includes a lot of expats and migrant workers, so you can test a product here and get a wide number of reference points in terms of market reaction, as you are dealing with a large number of different nationalities, cultures and traditions,” he says. “So it’s a good opportunity to gauge how they react to various products and services.”
But one of the effects of the pandemic will see countries looking to reduce their supply chains and reinvigorate their indigenous industries to be more prepared should a second wave of the virus occur.
And while Ireland has always enjoyed a large share of the educational market in that corner of the world, remote learning is likely to continue to play a larger role in the future, so our HEIs need to be prepared for this.
“Cooperation between Ireland and the Middle East is going to need to change as some countries are really expanding their education system to meet the needs of the region,” says Hogan. “Ireland needs to look at the content for remote learning rather than replicate what’s been happening in the classroom.”
Businesses will also operate more on a remote basis with exhibitions and conferences pushed into next year, so companies who want to stand out from the crowd, should come up with other ideas to make video conferencing more interesting. Decision makers in the Gulf are becoming increasing younger and tech savy, so Irish companies can’t simply rely or existing contacts and need to engage more widely and future proof their contact base.
“There is certainly some fatigue with relation to webinars and conference calls so it will be important to come up with something a bit special to engage clients,” says Hogan.
“These are young countries which require a continued and changing response so companies mustn’t sit on their laurels.”