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Resetting for recovery in Benelux as restrictions give way to opportunity

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Brussels in Belgium, where a number of the restrictions are now starting to be eased

Brussels in Belgium, where a number of the restrictions are now starting to be eased

Brussels in Belgium, where a number of the restrictions are now starting to be eased

In the earliest days of the Covid-19 crisis the focus for Irish companies with staff in the Benelux region was ensuring they were safe, understanding each country's Covid support measures and finding suitable accommodation for those who stayed on to finish projects.

Now, as we move into the new, post-outbreak, economy, it's about re-entry strategies.

Most businesses, production sites, research centres and sales offices have reopened, be it at a reduced capacity. Last week even saw the reopening of bars and restaurants in the Netherlands. Belgium is scheduled to do so tomorrow.

Irish businesses have already achieved significant exporting success in both countries. What affected Enterprise Ireland client companies in the region most have been Covid-related travel restrictions, including 14-day quarantines.

We are now heading into a relative relaxation of these too. Already in Belgium travel is allowed across borders for family reasons. Further relaxation of some travel restrictions is due too in both countries on June 15.

One of the most important industries for Enterprise Ireland client companies in both countries is high-tech construction and construction services, working on major projects such as data centres, pharmaceutical laboratories and biotech facilities.

All are sectors which have been in the news extensively here, as demand for healthcare solutions and technological services soared.

While some construction projects remain stalled, there are indications that others are set to resume. Irish companies that are active in the region, such as PM Group and DPS Engineering, are currently recruiting in these markets, in preparation for this uptick.

The pandemic has highlighted a particular need for data centres. Indeed, the country which recorded the highest growth in online meetings globally throughout Covid-19 has been the Netherlands. This adds to the fact that it was already a very sophisticated digital environment.

As the volume of video conferencing and other online activities spiked here during lockdown, data centres were under pressure to support it. This shift to online activity is set to continue and will transform the way buyers and sellers interact post Covid.

Buyers here are not as yet keen to meet face to face. Restrictions may be unlocking but they remain cautious. They are however very open to meeting on digital platforms and in fact feel very positively disposed towards it.

We already advise all our client companies to stay close to their existing customer base in this way. What the Covid-accelerated shift to digital means is that it is increasingly possible to engage with new sales prospects this way too.

Right now, many buyers have urgent needs for solutions to Covid-related challenges around such things as social distancing, digital platforms and payment methods.

One post-Covid transformation that has been particularly marked is the rise in webinars and virtual events, which reflects the fact that the events sector has been hit harder than most. As a result, we are seeing really interesting formats emerge that go way beyond traditionally hosted webinars.

Some of these new digital solutions offer virtual breakout rooms and an ability to manage your event networking on a one-to-one basis. Innovative Irish digital media company vStream has successfully pivoted to meet the growing demand for virtual meeting services.

To succeed in the post-Covid environment, Irish exporters need to make themselves known in the virtual world. Enterprise Ireland has been running a series of webinars to help them learn how to do just that.

We know from our network on the ground here that many projects that had been due to begin are now halted as executives pause to assess the full impact of Covid.

Ireland's exporters to the region must be patient, accept that the sales cycle is going to take longer and, in doing their own Covid impact assessment, look to see ways in which they too might pivot.

We've already seen how certain processes have been accelerated, from mobile payments to remote working. New opportunities are emerging all the time.

Our client companies are on a defined path to take them through Covid from stabilisation to reset and, ultimately, recovery.

A huge part of 'resetting' is about looking out for these new opportunities as they emerge, about figuring out what they need to do to existing products and services to meet them, and about being ready to jump on the right wave when - not if - recovery comes.

Patrick Torrekens is Enterprise Ireland regional director for Benelux.

Sunday Indo Business