The Middle East and North Africa region – popularly shortened to MENA – represents an area of huge opportunity for UK entrepreneurs. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, amongst others, usually spring quickly to mind as extremely good locations in which to do business.
Oman, on the other hand, tends not to trip off of the tongue so readily.
Yet, in terms of opportunity, it should. Certainly, some of the best-known multinational banks are present, with HSBC Bank Oman a major player in the country following the successful completion of a six-month long merger process between HSBC and Oman International Bank. Now business banking services from HSBC represent even greater value for its 10,000 commercial customers.
If the range of business banking services available has improved dramatically for both the foreign and Omani business community, the bank’s approximately 400,000 retail customers have also greatly benefited, too. Because of the merger, retail customers now have access to 88 branches and 143 ATMs, and are further connected, through the OmanNet national switch network, to more than 1,000 ATMs spread across the country.
Oman’s economy has depended heavily on oil and gas exports for many decades. However, with the realisation that such natural resources have a limited shelf life, the hunt is on to develop areas of economic and industrial diversification within the country.
According to the British government’s UK Trade & Investment department (UKTI), a key strand of current economic policy is to gradually decrease Oman’s reliance on oil income through downstream oil industry development (petrochemicals/metals), port and logistics development, fisheries, and a modern and expanded tourism industry. The country relies on oil for most its revenue, and defence accounts for one third of its expenditure.
Britain, in particular, has enjoyed an excellent trading relationship with Oman for more than three centuries. British goods and services are highly regarded, with machinery, engineering equipment, tools, and construction products always in great demand.
The UKTI says, “Although the bulk of the construction work is carried out by local contractors, a number of projects involving international contractors are in the pipeline. British engineering consultants and specialist service providers still continue to have a major share of the market. Apart from oil, gas and petrochemicals, healthcare, education and training also provide good opportunities for the UK. Plans to develop Oman’s tourism potential have stimulated activity in the hotel and leisure sector. UK consultants with a varying range of expertise are able to find frequent short and medium term assignments in a number of areas. A long-term approach and a high level of business loyalty are essential for successful market penetration and for sustaining market share.”
Against the backdrop of the global economic situation, Oman’s is committed to public spending and all planned projects are going ahead as scheduled.
The UKTI adds, “A number of large infrastructure and developmental projects are now under construction. These include new build ports, airports, roads, industrial zones and special economic zones, and a new railway line over 1,000km in length that should be operational by 2018-19. Total spend on developmental projects between now and 2020 will be in the region of $30 billion.”
Sounds very much like there are plenty of opportunities for UK entrepreneurs in Oman. Check out the UKTI’s website here.