THE REALITY APPROACH

Oman 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HH Sayyid Faisal Bin Turki Al Said, Director General of Marketing & Media at Ithraa, on the support provided to local exporters, and the need to develop an Omani brand.

HH Sayyid Faisal Bin Turki Al Said
BIOGRAPHY
HH Sayyid Faisal Bin Turki Al Said is the Director General of Marketing & Media at Ithraa. His early career was spent as Head of Planning and Development at OCIPED. After 11 years with OCIPED Sayyid Faisal was appointed at the COO of Brand Oman Management Unit (BOMU). BOMU was established in January 2009 to lead and facilitate the promotion of the Sultanate of Oman. Most recently, BOMU was integrated into the newly created PAIPED. In 2010, he became the Patron of Outward Bound Oman, an organization that seeks to help unlock young Omani potential. In the same year he became Chairman of the Al Amal Association, which plays a lead role in Special Olympics Oman. In 2012, he became the Vice-President of Oman’s Special Olympics Committee. Sayyid Faisal holds a BA in Business Management from the UAE University.

Can you share with us Ithraa's latest highlights and milestones?

Ithraa has worked with inward investors and Omani non-oil exporters since 1997, helping them identify opportunities domestically and internationally. And we have been successful. Today, Omani firms export to over 140 countries worldwide, and in 2012 exported just over $9 billion worth of non-oil commodities. Exporting is good for Omani business, good for Omani workers, and good for Omani jobs. Put simply, when Oman exports, Oman prospers. Tapping into consumers in fast-growing international markets and as well as in our traditional markets is crucial to putting Oman's economy on a solid footing. Helping businesses penetrate those markets is what we excel at. Exporting is of course fundamentally a decision driven by local businesses. But, firms attempting to close an export sale can face hurdles, including the lack of readily available information about exporting and market research, challenges obtaining export financing, and strong competition from foreign companies. This is where Ithraa's staff and services play such an important role. We help Omani businesses assess export opportunities, from developing a plan, identifying buyers and markets, and advising on regulations to managing logistics. If I have to highlight some of our recent Ithraa success stories, these would certainly include the 2013 UNCTAD Award for Excellence in Promoting Export-oriented FDI. This is a major international prize, and one we're very proud of.

How would you rate the Sultanate's diversification policy to date?

Today, we export to over 140 countries worldwide and during the first eight months of 2013 we experienced an 8% growth in non-oil exports compared to the same period in 2012. In 2012, we exported over $9 billion worth of non-oil commodities and expect to see 15% growth in 2014. This is all very healthy. If I'm to talk about diversification and inward investment, I'd have to mention Vale—a Brazilian multinational metals and mining company that made an initial investment of $1.25 billion in Oman. Its operations have generated more than 1,200 direct jobs and injected over $2.5 million into SME contracts, which will lead to further job creation and national capacity building. Vale has invested $10 million in training more than 200 of their employees, all of whom are now qualified mining industry engineers, technicians, and operators.

Oman has set a target to increase, by 15%, the value of its non-oil exports. How is Ithraa supporting the government to achieve this goal?

We work closely with domestic exporters and run an annual visit program to Omani manufacturers; this helps us identify any export problems or obstacles encountered by domestic firms. The field visits also provide us with an opportunity to brief local exporters on Ithraa-led activities and services. On the international front, we have trade and investment representatives in key global markets all actively involved in promoting Omani products as well as investment opportunities. Indeed, helping domestic companies penetrate mature as well as emerging markets is extremely important to us. With regard to more mature markets, we've been helping local companies participate at major international trade shows in the Gulf, the US, Asia, Africa, and Europe. We've also been encouraging Omani exporters to take advantage of the Oman-US Free Trade Agreement, which has seen Oman's non-oil exports to the US hit $605.7 million in 2012 as against $289.6 million in 2011. This is an increase of nearly 110%.

How is Ithraa promoting and branding Oman internationally?

In this regard, Ithraa is working with partners in the public and private sector to help differentiate Oman from other places and hence facilitate the promotion of the Sultanate's place product offer. In simple terms, a nation's brand is a multidimensional assortment of functional, emotional, relational, and strategic elements that collectively generate a unique set of associations in the public's mind. This set of associations creates a brand image—a bundle of ideas, feelings and attitudes that people have about a particular country. It's impossible to sum up Oman's brand in a word—it's multi-dimensional and constantly changing—and as the brand's strap-line says: we're on “an evolving journey." We're fully aware that trying to create a brand artificially is dangerous. At Ithraa, we're working on reality, not image. It's this approach that will generate real interest in the Sultanate.