x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

As crowds gather, will wheels mean deals?

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a perfect opportunity to grease the wheels for future deals and attract new investment to the capital, business leaders say.

ABU DHABI // The inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a perfect opportunity to grease the wheels for future deals and attract new investment to the capital, business leaders said. While there is nothing new in using sporting events to promote or cement business deals, the Formula One race is seen as having some special advantages.

Companies across the city have bought thousands of tickets to entertain current clients and try to woo new ones. Though the event may bring immediate benefits to the tourism sector, the people met and deals done at the Yas Marina Circuit may have a far longer-lasting impact on the city as a whole. "Nothing beats the ability to meet people face to face," said Emma Stonier, the founder of Driven Communications, a recently launched PR and marketing company that specialises in motorsports.

"You are simply another name if you conduct the majority of your business from your office." Networking flashpoints such as the F1 race carried plenty of potential, she said. "I will be using the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as an opportunity to meet prospective clients, face to face," said Ms Stonier. Research conducted last year by the Dutch financial group ING found that an F1 race makes an average return of 553 per cent to the host country, partly through long-term business deals.

One big advantage to the Abu Dhabi F1 was the fact that the city was not a regular fixture on the circuit, Ms Stonier said. "As Singapore saw last year, a new track on the F1 calendar draws the world's attention and many businesses will have chosen Abu Dhabi as the Grand Prix to come and do business at this year."

Local businesses may also be tempted to participate in the motorsport industry in some capacity, she said, creating a larger pool of prospective clients. Moreover, attendance by small businesses would be bolstered by the capital's accessibility. "Flight times and flight costs from many countries are very reasonable, compared to other places in the world, which in the current economic climate is vital for start-up companies."

But start-ups are not the only ones expected to benefit from the high-profile event. Dow Chemical is sending high-profile clients from Asia and Africa, as well as hand-picked employees, for entertainment and networking. One of the reasons for this interest is the region's penchant for doing business with familiar faces. "We are operating in a region that values person-to-person contact and interface," said Zuhair Allawi, the manufacturing giant's commercial director for India, the Middle East and Africa.

This prompted the company's participation in the F1. "There's no substitute for engaging with your clients," said Mr Allawi, adding that events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped "build loyalty, trust and cement long-term relationships". Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns The National, bought tickets for clients who will attend the three-day event, as a way of "saying thank you to existing clients, people we have a relationship with, suppliers we depend on, and future clients," said Vida Rizq, ADMC's chief marketing officer.

As a media establishment, ADMC was interested in meeting potential contacts in a variety of sectors, said Ms Rizq, who added that the event's high profile made it "historic" and one that had not been encountered before in the region. However, despite the event's wide appeal, companies ought to emphasise their relevance to the event if they hoped to gain anything. "Sports are increasingly important for ADMC," she said.

Mubadala, the investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, will invite close to 300 guests to join it at the Yas Marina Circuit this weekend. Sara al Shorouqi, the senior manager for marketing communications with Mubadala, which also sponsors the Ferrari F1 team, said: "The Grand Prix coming to town allows us to invite international partners to experience Abu Dhabi. "So we have a number of partners who will be here for five days and we are really excited about that, and to make them understand what Mubadala does."

Dr Rainer Behne, the managing partner of Rodriguez Group, which sells and maintains upmarket yachts, is attending the F1 along with 60 clients, business associates and top management at Behne and Co, a firm that he helped found in the 1980s. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was "one of the biggest events" to be held in the region, Dr Behne said. "Everyone should be there, not just for leisure but also for business."

In addition to providing a chance for top management to meet clients and do deals, the event's official backing was likely to lure interested businesses, since it guaranteed a strong presence by government decision-makers, he said. "The endorsement of the event by the royal family, this commitment, you don't see it anywhere else." The Abu Dhabi Government has fully booked the Emirates Palace hotel to accommodate officials and dignitaries visiting the capital for the F1.

The event was a perfect opportunity for "guests to learn more about the country, to learn about its quality", Dr Behne said. newsdesk@thenational.ae