Austrian firms look for niche markets in Saudi Arabia

Austrian firms look for niche markets in Saudi Arabia :Austrian companies are focusing on market niches in the Saudi construction, infrastructure and industrial sectors to increase business ties with the Kingdom, said Walter Koren, director general of Advantage Austria – the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber that promotes its country’s businesses and economy abroad.

Koren was on a tour in Jeddah with Oskar Andesner, regional director Africa/Middle East at Advantage Austria, and Pierre Prunis, commercial counselor at the Austrian Embassy. The two-day biennial meeting of the Saudi-Austrian Joint Committee was concluded Wednesday in Riyadh. The trade visit saw the participation of 14 Austrian companies, divided into an economic commercial delegation and a scientific higher education delegation.

“We have a wide range of interests, but we do focus on some like infrastructure, especially railway projects, construction, health, education, and industrial goods – mainly machinery,” the regional director told the Saudi Gazette.

He said one of the delegation’s main objectives was to encourage more companies to invest in Saudi Arabia and establish fruitful business partnerships. At the moment, only 35 Austrian companies have businesses in the Kingdom.

Nevertheless, the Kingdom constitutes a major business partner for Austria in the entire Middle East and Africa region, with United Arab Emirates following suit. “Saudi Arabia is a traditional very good partner,” Koren said, adding that those Austrian companies that have been doing business here have been “very satisfied.”

“We have companies which participate in (prominent) projects, like in the construction of the new Kingdom Tower here in Jeddah,” he said, referring to Doka Group, an international producer and supplier of prefabricated formwork with experience in large-scale projects including the formwork of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which in the Kingdom works together with Saudi Binladin Group.

Another major project, executed by Lights of Vienna, the director general said, is the design, development and production of a lighting system for the expansion of the Great Mosque in Makkah.

Koren further said Austrian companies commonly offer specific products rather than being the general contractor. He gave the example of prominent rail producers and manufacturers of communication equipment for trains that are eager to be part of the vast railway and metro projects in the Kingdom.

“The rolling stock (for the Riyadh metro) is supposed to be supplied for by Siemens, a well-known German company, but they have big production facilities and the competent center for rolling stock in Austria, so we are involved, although not formally part of the construction consortium.”

The Saudi-Austrian Joint Committee meeting in Riyadh included a wide array of topics, such as tourism, education and vocational training, while Saudi export to Austria mainly revolves around oil and petrochemicals, in addition to non-business issues such as interfaith dialogue and exchange of professors between Saudi and Austrian universities.

“Saudi is interested in attracting investment, in attracting technology, in attracting know-how, in entering into cooperation in different fields, and one is business – commercial and economy – and the other is rather cultural, but definitely with some links to commercial activities, because in the field of education we have private and public offer,” Koren elaborated on the Saudi interest in establishing the joint committee with Austria back in 2004.

He added that trade volume between the two countries last year had been slightly over 1 billion euros (SR4.67 billion), with Austrian exports to the Kingdom amounting to 684,120,246 euros (SR3.20 billion) and Saudi exports to Austria totaling 370,543,816 euros (SR1.73 billion). Since 2009, Austrian exports to the Kingdom witnessed double-digits growth, with yearly increases between 10 and 18 percent.

A growing field of income for the Alpine country in Europe is tourism. Last year, the number of arrivals from the Kingdom increased with 25.5 percent, while the average nights per stay also went up significantly with 25.9 percent. “Especially summer tourism is a focus, in the region of Salzburg and the lakes,” said Prunis, the commercial counsllor at the Austrian Embassy in Riyadh, adding the number of Saudi arrivals is higher than to Austria’s neighboring countries, such as Germany and Switzerland.

He said the right promotion and a good combination of culture, landscape and climate was what attracted Saudi travelers to the Central European country. “We are really focusing on that business,” Prunis said.

The trade delegation was part of a broader strategy by Advantage Austria to promote its businesses in the Kingdom, with a fact-finding mission on railway technology that took place nearly a month ago, a major trade delegation consisting of about 20 companies scheduled to visit Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam in March, as well as another delegation focusing on health tourism and education in May.

Austrian firms look for niche markets in Saudi Arabia

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