Kuwait may be small in size but it’s big in wealth and offers great opportunities for overseas companies to do business there. However, visiting executives should not base their expectations on how business is conducted in the West but must be aware of the Arabic culture and how it affects business dealings. A little understanding of the Arab world combined with a few words of Arabic can mean the difference between deal and no-deal.
Airport: Business travellers will arrive at Kuwait City’s International Airport which lies 15km south of the city centre. It is well served by flights from around the world including frequent services from London with British Airways and Kuwait Airways from Amsterdam with KLM.
Transfers: Business travellers can pre-book a private transfer from Kuwait Airport to their hotel and have a driver awaiting them on arrival. There are also taxi and public bus services which provide transport into the city.
Where to Stay: Most of the hotels in Kuwait City cater for the business market so you can’t go far wrong if you book a room in one of the well-known chain hotels such as the 5-star JW Marriott Hotel (Al Shuhada Street) or the Sheraton Kuwait (Fahd Al-Salem Street) which was the city’s original luxury hotel.
Getting Around: The city’s bus service is only used by local workers and hailing a street taxi isn’t a good idea if you value your safety. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended that you order a taxi from a reputable company at your hotel reception.
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Islamic Holidays: When planning a business trip to Kuwait be sure to allow for the fact that the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Also be sure to check out the dates of the sacred month of Ramadan when business hours are severely reduced and important Islamic holidays including Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. The business calendar may also be affected by Christian holidays due to the number of expatriates working in the Middle East. It’s also worthwhile finding out what time daily prayers take place so that meeting times can be planned accordingly.
First Impressions: It is strongly recommended that business travellers wear a high quality, dark coloured business suit when attending meetings in Kuwait City. Female executives must be particularly conservative in their attire ensuring that their arms and legs are covered and avoiding any semblance of a low-cut blouse. It’s important to arrive on time for meetings although it wouldn’t be uncommon for the host to arrive late. This shouldn’t be seen as a sign of disrespect, it’s simply a reflection of the slower pace of life in the Arab world.
Warning: Don’t be stressed if proceedings move slower than you might have expected … the word ‘bukra’ is the Arabic equivalent of the Spanish ”mañana”!
On arrival at a meeting it’s usual to shake hands although this greeting usually lasts longer than is customary in the West. When a man is meeting a Kuwaiti businesswoman he should wait for her to offer her hand, a female traveller meeting an Arab businessman or woman should allow them to initiate the handshake. It is customary to address people formally using their position or title plus family name (eg. Mr Al-Kharafi). Westerners will frequently be addressed formally but using their first name (eg. Mr John). The level of English in the Kuwaiti business world is extremely high so is unlikely to pose any problems at meetings. However, learning a few Arabic greetings will be much appreciated by your host.
Business Meetings: Before getting down to business your Kuwaiti host will usually try to break the ice by having a friendly conversation with you about your family and interests, etc. In turn you are welcome to ask similar questions. People in the Arab world can be quite tactile so don’t be surprised if someone touches you on the shoulder from time to time or takes your hand to lead you into a room. In addition you won’t get the same amount of personal space as you’d expect in the Western boardroom.
Be sure to pack business cards before travelling to Kuwait as these are widely given and received in the Arab world. Ideally they should be printed in both Arabic and English whilst remembering that the Arabic language is read from right to left when preparing your design. Whilst your counterpart will look to strike a hard bargain the flow meetings will often be slow with numerous interruptions. The important thing is to remain patient and never say anything which would cause a Kuwaiti to lose face such as blatantly disagreeing or correcting anyone. Equally an Arab businessperson will not openly disagree with you as this would cause you to lose face. For this reason meetings will usually require a follow-up phone call or email exchange when matters can be cleared up in non-face-to face manner.
Warning: Don’t cross your legs during a meeting and show the sole of your shoe to anyone as this is considered very rude. Also remember that you should always use your right hand when greeting people or handing over business cards and documents as the left hand is considered unclean in the Arab world.
Business Hospitality: Hospitality is an important part of Arab culture so it’s important to graciously accept any offers of refreshments, gifts or invitations when visiting Kuwait. If you are invited to dinner at a restaurant or at someone’s home be sure to arrive on time and take a small, wrapped gift. Your host will take great pride in entertaining you and will ensure that you are looked after impeccably well.
In general you should allow your host and any senior members of a group to take their seat before you sit down. Discussion about religion and politics is best avoided. If cutlery isn’t provided you may have to pick up food from a shared dish using a slice of pita bread held in your right hand. Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait so you will most likely drink fruit juices, tea or water. At the end of the meal be sure to leave a little food on your plate when you are finished eating otherwise more food will be served because an empty plate suggests that you are still hungry. At the end of the meal your host will pay the bill and you should show immense gratitude for how you have been looked after.
Reciprocating such hospitality may not be possible during a short business trip to Kuwait but you should certainly go out of your way to offer similar generosity should your counterpart ever pay a visit to your home country.
Away From The Office
If your visit to Kuwait City allows enough time to do some sightseeing there are a few main tourist attractions that you should look out for:
Grand Mosque: It’s well worth taking a tour of Kuwait’s largest mosque and learning a little about Islam from the friendly and informative guides.
Souq Mubarakiya: For an experience not to be forgotten you should take a stroll around this historic market which sells typical produce from the Middle Eastern region. It’s also home to a series of outdoor restaurants where you can enjoy the local cuisine.
Kuwait Towers: Visitors can take a lift to the observation deck of these iconic towers to get panoramic views across the Arabian Gulf.
Avenues Mall: If you want to do some shopping whilst you’re in town you should head for what is the Middle East’s second largest shopping mall. It’s also an entertainment centre with many restaurants and a cinema complex.
About Shuttle Direct
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