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TFI - Trade Fairs International - The International Trade Fair Magazine

TFI Know-how

How can exhibitors communicate with regional decision-makers in the UAE?

Photo: Michael Dehn

Expert

Michael Dehn

Group Exhibitions Director
Epoc Messe Frankfurt, Dubai


Our exhibitions in Dubai bring together exhibitors and visitors from over 100 countries. Buyers from the Arabian region play a leading role. Who wants to communicate with them should pay attention to a few sensitive points.    
Decision-maker structures
All the decision-makers can usually be met at an exhibition. They do not want to miss out on getting an overview. But if they want to speak to a specific firm they frequently first send an employee to make the first contact and to establish a certain amount of familiarity. In general, the impression of very strong interest should be avoided.  

Expectations
Arab visitors come with certain notions about Western business people to the stand. The attitude of expectation differs according to national origin. German business partners for example are expected to be punctual, straight-forward, and reliable. Very important: The pride of an owner or decision-maker has to be taken seriously and can either further or end any type of business – regardless of what or how much is concerned.  

Greetings
Public life in the United Arab Emirates is not as strictly regulated as in some other Arabian countries. Nevertheless, the basic rules for Islamic countries apply here too and the “traditional rules” continue to be valid. A brief handshake as a greeting is allowed. However, a greeting with the left hand causes silent discontent and will not advance the subsequent conversation. One does not shake hands with an obviously veiled woman, since she will probably have to politely refuse. In general, each person should assess who is before him or her. For many partners have been accustomed to dealing with Western business people for decades. Then it can quickly become ridiculous if one keeps strictly to the supposed “rules”.  

Opening the conversation
Small talk definitely makes a good start before turning to business subjects. Private matters, such as pertaining to family, should not be talked about. At least it is not advisable to take the initiative in such topics. Fundamentally, one should always be flexible and react sensitively.  

Manners abroad
There are certain rules of etiquette which apply everywhere in the world. These are supplemented by the etiquette codes specific to each country – and things which do not help promote business success. In Dubai these are topics having to do with religion and politics. The etiquette codes particular to each country include rules on how women have to behave with one other. Clothing rules do not represent a problem at exhibitions, since here formal clothing generally dominates.  

Female stand employees
Women at the stand should be sensitive enough to let the other side take the initiative, as for example in shaking hands. In general, business contact between men and women takes place everyday, but is often kept to the minimum. Business clothing is for female stand employees compulsory.  

Language
English usually completely suffices as the language of business. This also refers to business documents. However it is a question of politeness when an exhibitor offers selected printed materials in Arabic too. A good translation is then necessary, since Arabic is not the same everywhere. For this reason the recommendation is again to start off with simple messages and then to expand them step by step.  

Post-exhibition work
A good follow-up helps to deepen the familiarity within a relationship. Once a business deal is closed, then good care of the contact can lead to a long-term business relationship.

This article was published in TFI issue 1/2012