June 10, 2023

Focus on... The Gulf States

The six oil-rich Arabian Gulf States – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman – have diversified their economies, creating new opportunities for British trade and investment post-Brexit, writes Sasha Wood.

Nature bestowed the Gulf two gifts: pearls from the oyster-rich sea and ‘black gold’ from beneath the sand. The former fed the earliest industry while the latter catapulted the region into the global economic stratosphere.

The region’s oil-rich GCC nations include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, but some, such as Oman and the UAE, are increasingly turning to tourism as the wells run dry. Harnessing the plentiful supply of sun, sand and sea to turn a profit, they are creating fresh opportunities for UK companies to invest in hospitality and infra-structure, and especially in construction, in a set of safe and secure countries, albeit in a turbulent neighbourhood.

The desert emirate of Dubai is undoubtedly the Gulf’s financial centre and economic gateway, with free trade facilitating access to other regional markets such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. It also boasts the biggest sea container port in the Middle East, part of the city’s original plan to establish itself as a trade centre when it lacked the massive oil reserves of its neighbours.

As a whole, the UAE has been successful in diversifying its economy away from oil, and now has Arabia’s second strongest economy after Saudi Arabia. More than 5,000 British companies already operate in the destination, including well-known brands such as BP, Rolls Royce, Barclays, HSBC and Waitrose, with plenty of room for more so post-Brexit. The UK government has stated its commitment to increasing cooperation between the UK and the Gulf States’ financial services sector with mutual opportunities for business across asset management, cyber security, sustainable finance and FinTech.

Despite stalling in 2017, the Gulf States’ economies are surging ahead, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which predicts 3% growth by the end of this year alone. GDP growth across the GCC is also expected to be healthy this year largely due to the region’s increased investment in development projects. With the Gulf’s strongest GDP growth – at 5% – Oman’s commitment to expanding its tourism offering seems to be bearing fruit.

A uniquely close relationship between Oman and the UK fostered by historic ties and friendship between the monarchies makes it a great business proposition. In fact, the UK is Oman’s largest source of foreign direct investment and there is a strong appetite to see more trade with the UK.

At the crossroads of international trade routes since ancient times, Bahrain was the first GCC state to strike oil. The island nation has good bilateral relations with the UK and direct access to the Saudi economy via King Fahad Causeway. Similarly to Bahrain, Kuwait has a longstanding business relationship with the UK, with exports to the Kuwaiti market up 23% this year alone.

Oil, meanwhile, still forms the backbone of the Saudi economy, while across the Gulf the IMF says public investment projects, including those consistent with the five-year development plan in Kuwait,

infrastructure investment projects ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and ongoing preparations for Expo 2020 in the UAE, have all contributed to growth.

Qatar has also instituted the 2030 Qatar National Vision, one of the world’s most ambitious infrastructure projects with a budget of £140bn. Qatar is a significant investor in the UK and its third largest export market in the region, buying largely heavy machinery, vehicles and power generation equipment. Considering the growing bilateral economic relationship, like the other GCC countries, it’s ripe for investment.


British Airways
Flies daily from Heathrow to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, plus Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatari capital Doha and the Saudi gateway of Jeddah; and 19 times per week to Dubai. It also has four flights per week to Omani capital Muscat from Heathrow.

Flies to Dubai six times daily from London Heathrow; 22 times per week from London Gatwick; and twice daily from London Stansted. There are also double daily flights from Birmingham and Glasgow, and daily flights from Newcastle and Edinburgh, plus a thrice daily service from Manchester.

Etihad Airways
Has five flights a day to Abu Dhabi from Heathrow, and twice daily flights from Manchester.

Jazeera Airways
Will fly to Kuwait from Gatwick from October.

Kuwait Airways
TOperates 13 flights per week to Kuwait from London Heathrow.

Oman Air
Flies twice daily to Muscat from London Heathrow, and daily from Manchester.

Qatar Airways
Flies to Doha seven times per day from London Heathrow; four times per day from Manchester; daily from Birmingham and Cardiff; 10 times per week from Edinburgh; and has 28 flights a week between Doha and Gatwick.

Saudi Arabian Airways
Has nine flights a week from Heathrow to Jeddah and five a week from Manchester.

Information kindly supplied by travel data and analytics specialist Cirium (cirium.com)

The Gulf Time Zones
Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia: GMT +3hrs; Oman and the UAE: GMT +4hrs. Local Currency: UAE Dirham: £1 = 4.57 AEDOmani Rial: £1 = 0.48 OMRBahraini Dinar: £1 = 0.47 BHDQatari Riyal: £1 = 4.53 QARSaudi Riyal: £1 = 4.66 SARKuwaiti Dinar: £1 = 0.38 KWD Exchange rates are approximate.

Available upon arrival for the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain; for Oman, apply for an e-visa in advance; for Saudi Arabia, apply in advance from visa agencies accredited to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

Dialling codes
Kuwait +965; UAE +971, Bahrain +973, Oman +968, Qatar +974, Saudi +966.

Information correct at time of publication: October 2019