Understanding the Arab business traveller and culture

Last month we wrote about Clarendon’s visit to the Arab travel market and how we can understand the Arab business traveller a little better and pre-empt their needs to foster good business relationships. Based on our visit to Dubai and from the connections we made here is our advice;

Meet and greet

Every culture and custom has different ways of introducing and greeting people. The traditional Islamic greeting is “Asalamu alaykum” which means “peace be with you”. Non-Muslims are not required to use the traditional response but the reply is “wa alaykum salam”, meaning “and peace be with you”. You’ll find Arabs are often fairly informal with names. Whereas in the West we tend to use people’s surnames when we first meet, if your name is John Smith, for example, you’ll be referred to as Mr. John.

Business is personal

Relationship building and engendering trust are vital parts of Arabic culture and this extends into business dealings. Businesses often want to establish if compatibility is an important factor before they sign up to do business. Getting to know the person you are doing business with and engaging in conversation is also vital.

Speech is more important than words

In Middle Eastern culture the spoken word carries more value than the written word. A person’s word is their bond so it’s strongly connected to honour. Contracts are not viewed as binding but are instead an articulated or evidenced proof of an understanding between two parties for referral. Always deliver what has been promised; truth and honour are valuable characteristics.

How to negotiate

Never book in a meeting too far in advance as once a meeting is made it is considered rude to cancel. Confirm the appointment verbally a few days before the meeting to ensure it goes ahead. Expect the meeting to be a little chaotic. In western culture the meeting is often seen as the be all and end all and are held in reverence. It’s not quite the case in the Middle East. Phone calls are often taken during meetings and other people may step in to begin their own sidetracking conversation.

When you’re negotiating remember you’re often dealing with skilled business negotiators in the Middle East. This often comes from a trading culture and the desire to get a good deal. Decisions are made slowly and expect a great deal of bureaucratic formalities that can add delays. High pressure tactics will often be counter-productive.

There is potential for growth within the Arab travel market so it becomes increasingly important to understand culture and make business feel welcome when they come to London. Both Soho, Covent Garden and Clarendon’s Cleveland Residences tend to be very popular with Arab business travellers as they are close to Knightsbridge and Edgware Road where you’ll find a high density of Arabic businesses. Each of the apartments come with WiFi access, weekly housekeeping, Freeview and integrated kitchens making it easy for travellers to prepare their own meals while they are on the road

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