When did the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) start its operations here?
We first opened an office at the end of the ’80s in Abu Dhabi. At the time, Dubai was different and not the city it is today. In the middle of the ’90s, we moved to Dubai to the World Trade Centre, as it was the most iconic address in the emirate in those days. We have experienced major economic development and the drive in the UAE in the past few decades.
How would you describe the role of ITA in the region?
We are entrusted by the Italian government to assist Italian companies in getting into new markets. We have a dedicated network of offices all around the world. The territories of Oman and Pakistan also fall within the purview of the Dubai outpost of the ITA.
With regards to the design companies, we mainly give them information, advice and consultancy services, in order for them to get acquainted with the local market, procedures to get in, demand, supply and distribution channels and such aspects.
For the most part, our objective is to participate in major promotional activities in order to support these companies in their marketing actions.
How does being present in this region benefit Italian companies?
This market is very prone for fully-fledged Italian presence. Italy has a long-standing history and experience in the design industry, and it is part of our Italian culture. There are many projects in the region where Italian companies could take part in and cooperate with their flair, experience, skills and know-how. This market still has many opportunities to offer, and we’re here to optimise them in the medium to the long run.
Directly or indirectly, there are about 100 Italian companies present in this region. Either they have their own office, or they have a presence through retail stores, or through distributors and sponsors in the market.
What are some of the challenges you and the companies face in setting up business here?
Challenges are mostly related to the average size of the Italian companies. We’re an economy whose backbone is characterised by the presence of small and medium-size companies, which often employ less than 10 people. But they have strong products, and they need support in international markets. They need an organisation to guide them, as well as financial resources to create a systematic representation in these markets. They also have to enhance their cultural abilities and learn the local sensibilities of the markets they want to tap into.
Importantly, they have to understand the peculiarities of the regulatory system in the UAE. They have to know the rules of the game. In fact, if they really want to serve the market, they need to have a stable organisation here, mostly on mainland but also in free zones. They have to choose the right business model that works for them. Sometimes, it’s not easy to get them to understand these kind of specificities of this market.
Is there a keen interest shown by companies in the UAE and the region to invest in the Italian design sector?
In the past few years, we have seen some good dynamics in this. There is also a large interest from the consumers’ point of view for Italians to accept cross-fertilisation from other business realities. Although, we are not talking big numbers at the moment, we are certainly experiencing a growth in investment as well as trade with regional companies.
Do you provide any incentives for Italian companies operating in this region?
We are a full-fledged government agency and all our services and support are subsidised by the government. These companies can benefit from our services at a lower price than the private sector, and also if they wish to participate in trade fairs with us, we can basically take care of most of the cost they have to incur.
They have to give us a fee, which is more of a political fee in terms of the real cost we face. But they would pay much less than if they came by themselves.
What are the highlights of this year’s Italian Design Day event?
Every year, we try to give a different angle of the Italian design thought. Last year, our keynote speaker was Italian architect, Fabio Novembre.
This year, the thematic framework is about smart cities. So we will have one of the best architects in this field, Carlo Ratti. We will organise a masterclass in Dubai Design District, so everyone will get a chance to talk to him and ask questions. We will showcase a presentation of his projects, which demosntrate the latest Italian innovations in the smart city arena.
Organised under the umbrella of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italian embassies and their respective trade commissions around the world hold this event in March.
What is the return on investment which can be attributed to these initiatives?
At the end of 2009, exports of Italian furniture to the GCC was worth €275mn, while at the end of 2018 was around €510mn. Over 10 years, this is an increase of more than 85%. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are the biggest markets with a share of €200mn and €150mn respectively. Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain form €50mn, €20mn and €15mn respectively. There is a lot of interest in consumers as well as professional companies here. All our initiatives get prominent participation, and also create an influence and buzz in the regional press.
What are your organisation’s goals for the next three years?
Right now, our goal is to get into Expo2020 Dubai. We’ve chosen our thematic interpretation of the Expo2020 — “Beauty connects minds”. We would like to refer to the longstanding aesthetic in our tradition to interpret the theme of Expo2020, which is “Connecting minds, creating the future”. We will give our own spin on it by tapping into our own comparative advantage, which is art, aesthetic and design.