Wednesday 22 May 2019

Ireland keen to build on the Gulf business stream

Enda Corneille, Ireland country manager with Emirates, Nisha Leelakrishnan, Emirates cabin crew, and Ahmad Younis, Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce at the launch of the Arab-Irish Forum
Enda Corneille, Ireland country manager with Emirates, Nisha Leelakrishnan, Emirates cabin crew, and Ahmad Younis, Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce at the launch of the Arab-Irish Forum

Mark Evans

This column is a big advocate of travel without the red tape ­- and a few smart moves on Ireland's part are already opening more doors in newer markets.

With the push to diversify Ireland Inc's business in a post-Brexit world, Ireland removed visa requirements for United Arab Emirates nationals, beginning last January.

And last month, Ireland opened an external visa application - the first in the UAE - where foreigners living in the region can apply for Irish travel visas.

The logic is that because the area is home to large numbers of high-net-worth individuals and foreign residents heading up multinational companies, Ireland can steal a march by simplifying their travel process here.

Instead of having to visit Ireland's embassy in Abu Dhabi, the process is simplified, including a 'Premium Lounge' service where staff will help applicants fill in their visa forms.

It's early days for the new service - operated by VFS Global, billing itself as the world's largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions - but the visa exemption decision is already paying dividends.

Enda Corneille, country manager for Emirates airline in Ireland, told the Sunday Independent: "Since January, we've seen a 17pc increase in total business coming from the UAE into Ireland on the Dubai route."

Corneille added that the jump was noticeable from the first quarter of this year, so it can't be put down to inbound tourism, when UAE nationals head away from the hellish summer heat there. "Nothing else has changed, so I can only put it down to the visa exemption," he says.

And the surge has been unexpected, given that only one-in-five passengers on his flights actually stay in the hub city of Dubai: "Business class alone has increased by 28pc. I was quite surprised by that."

Not that he's complaining. "My job is slightly different from most country managers in that I'm measured on route profitability," with an equal focus on inbound, not just outbound, bums on seats.

Given the economics of aviation, where a full business class means bigger profits, "where you see a big increase at the front of the bus, that's valuable", he said. Corneille believes such a figure "points to a potential real economic benefit to Ireland having those exemptions in place" and said the new office for non-UAE nationals "is going to drive the traffic even higher".

While much attention is placed on Asia-Pacific, especially China, trade with the UAE is substantial - and rising. In 2016, Irish exports to Arab markets in the UAE and beyond were valued at €4.3bn, and growing, due to regular direct links between the two countries from the likes of Emirates and rival Etihad Airways.

As it stands, 250 Irish companies - across fintech, ICT, engineering, life sciences, aerospace, education and premium foods - export goods to the UAE alone.

And with an economic report commissioned by the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce forecasting that Irish exports to the Arab markets will reach €9bn over the next two decades, Dublin will be playing host to a conference aimed at opening up new markets for exporters.

The Arab-Irish Business Forum, taking place in Dublin's Mansion House on October 3, will feature discussion on countries that offer the best bets for Irish businesses; first-hand advice on how to break into these new markets; a look at emerging markets such as Morocco, Egypt and Jordan; and presentations from Irish companies already doing business in the Arab world, including from tech entrepreneur Paul Kenny.

Other speakers include experts from the likes of Nexus Group, Neom, Monojo Biotech, the Transguard Group, Dataflow and Nestbox Egg Company.

Ahmad Younis, chief executive of the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce, reckons attendees can "gain real insight from speakers who have expanded their operations and who have first-hand experience of eastern markets, including how they may have overcome failures or challenges when starting off". The event is being organised by the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce, Bord Bia, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Emirates Airline and Enterprise Ireland at

Sunday Indo Business

Also in Business