The Rory McIlroy factor and the personal input of the First and deputy First Ministers was crucial to securing access to decision makers during a recent Invest Northern Ireland trade mission to the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE is a federation of seven hereditary emirates, with Abu Dhabi as its capital.
These are traditional societies where the ruling families own many of the industries and set economic policy.
Alastair Hamilton, the CEO of Invest Northern Ireland, said: “There is no doubt that the fact that we had the two heads of local Executive there helped open doors in ruling circles.”
He also praised the input of Arlene Foster, the Enterprise Minister, who, he said, had performed impressively in all the meetings and “did do a tremendous job last week in promoting tourism.”
On the India leg of the trip, Ms Foster launched a tourism drive in Delhi with a special emphasis on golf, following the success of local sportsmen like Rory McIlroy (below).
The fact that some local firms have acted as contractors for Stormont departments also creates confidence within eastern markets and is taken as a sign that ministerial recommendations are genuine.
When it operates in new markets, Invest Northern Ireland has learnt to check out the “diaspora factor”.
Where possible, it mobilises a network of Northern émigrés and people with local ties to provide introductions and advice. For instance, a senior executive in Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is from Keady, in South Armagh, and its chief executive is James Hogan, an Australian who is of Irish ancestry.
“It is sometimes said that in North America you do business and that builds relationships. In the east you build relationships and then you do business,” Mr Hamilton said.
“That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to build relationships, trying to build the connections with people because this is what is important.
“Generally people need to get comfortable with you; they need to know your credibility and your products before they decide to start to do business with you.”
Building on this approach, Invest Northern Ireland has established a dedicated office complex in Delhi where Northern Ireland firms can rent rooms and be introduced to the region. It is staffed by established Indian facilitators who can provide introductions to local partners and advice to business people.
Similar projects will be rolled out across the region, starting with Shanghai in China, so that our local firms who have got what it takes can hit the ground running.