The Gulf States

The Arabian Gulf is experiencing rapid growth in visitor numbers while opportunities for UK-based businesses are also plentiful. Benjamin Coren looks at five key destinations across the region


The Gulf is synonymous with arid deserts and vast reserves of crude oil, but the region's key cities – including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Doha, Muscat and Riyadh – are vibrant centres of commerce and important trading partners of the UK.

The diverse region comprises the nations of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

And with Brexit looming, the UK is working to strengthen links with trading partners in the region. Prime Minister Theresa May upped the ante in November when she visited the Middle East to hold talks with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the UK's largest civil export market in the region currently.

The UAE has diversified its economy away from 'black gold', with non-oil sectors now contributing to around 70% of its GDP. And the emirates' economy continues to grow thanks to well-established infrastructure, a stable political system, thriving tourism and ongoing developments in key cities – and regional rivals – Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Among the big British companies currently operating in the UAE are Rolls Royce, BP, Shell, BAE Systems and HSBC – but the Department for International Trade (DTI) says opportunities abound in education, professional services, healthcare, infrastructure and the environment.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is the largest economy in the region and is the UK’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East. Following the launch of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme to diversify its economy and develop public sector services, there is renewed appetite for overseas skills, particularly in construction, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals and automobile assembly.

Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world and is set to invest up to £140billion in infrastructure over the next seven years, many of the projects coming as a result of hosting the football World Cup in 2022

According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), Qatar’s top import industries include aircraft, machinery, vehicles, commodities, gems and plastics.

It also has significant oil and gas reserves with energy production per head dwarfing other Gulf countries.

Diminutive Bahrain is ranked by the Index of Economic Freedom as having the freest economy in the Middle East, and the Kingdom is a significant banking, financial services and human resource development and training centre in the Gulf.

Though much of its growth is derived from the oil sector, non-oil sectors have been steadily growing with notable contributors to GDP being financial services, transport, manufacturing and construction.

Oman, too, thrives on its natural resources, with the energy sector delivering over 50% of the country’s GDP and some 75% of its export earnings.

The UK is currently Oman’s biggest foreign investor and economic growth for the nation is expected to show improved numbers in 2018. Openings for British companies lie in education, healthcare and infrastructure developments as it ploughs over £50billion into new ports, airports, roads, hotels and resorts.

The airline operates 133 non-stop flights per week from the UK to Dubai – six services a day from Heathrow, four daily from Birmingham, three daily from London Gatwick and Manchester, two per day from Glasgow and a daily service from Newcastle. Emirates will add a daily service from London Stansted in June.

Etihad Airways operates three daily flights from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi. The airline also flies twice daily from Manchester to its home hub and five times a week from Edinburgh to Abu Dhabi.

Qatar Airways
Qatar has seven flights a day from London Heathrow to Qatar. In addition, it flies twice-daily from Manchester to Doha (with three departures on Saturdays) and has a daily flight from Edinburgh. It is also due to launch daily flights from Cardiff this May.

Oman Air
The airline has two flights a day from London Heathrow to Muscat and a daily service from Manchester.

Gulf Air
The airline operates two non-stop services a day from London Heathrow to Bahrain.

Saudia operates daily non-stop services from Heathrow to both Riyadh and Jeddah, and also operates from Manchester to Jeddah five times a week.

The Gulf Time Zones
Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia: GMT +3hrs; UAE and Oman: GMT +4hrs. Currency: UAE: UAE Dirham, £1=4.94 AED; Bahrain: Bahraini Dinar, £1=0.51 BHD; Oman: Omani Rial, £1=0.52 OMR; Qatar: Qatari Riyal, £1=4.89 QAR; Saudi Arabia: Saudi Riyal, £1=5.05 SAR. Exchange rates are approximate.
Visas: available on arrival in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. Applications must be made in advance for entry to Saudi Arabia. Dialling codes: UAE +971, Bahrain +973, Oman +968, Qatar +974, Saudi Arabia +966.

Information correct at time of publication: January 2018