Exciting business and event opportunities await, but in some seriously dodgy places, so says Matt Storey, director – business development at Gallowglass

 

Hands up everyone who’s looking to expand their global footprint in the brave new post-Brexit world. Many events businesses have been trading internationally for some time of course – working on overseas projects or opening offices in promising markets. But with the likelihood of a frosty reception from our near trading neighbours in the coming years, casting the nets further afield may become a necessity.

As a long-time supplier to international sporting events, our own business has already dipped its toes into Delhi, Rio, Sochi and Baku. And I have to tell you ­­– it’s been an education. For years, the UK events industry has prided itself on leading the world both creatively and operationally. But we’ve discovered that this country also stands head and shoulders above vast swathes of the planet in terms of ethics and fair dealing.

The grim truth is that in three quarters of the world’s territories there’s no such thing as a level playing field for doing business. Bribery, corruption and fixing are rife, and the term “fair trading” becomes an oxymoron as soon as you venture beyond our own well-regulated back yard. Pretty frustrating, when you think that so many exciting prospects exist in seriously dodgy places.

Qatar ranks high up in the world corruption listing, but the opening of its National Convention Centre and the prospect of the 2022 FIFA World Cup made it an obvious focus for new business. We believed that honourable deals would be struck if all the correct protocols were followed – particularly with the support and encouragement of UK Trade and Investment, now replaced by the Department for International Trade – that’s D.I.T, as opposed to DIT, which means bum in Vietnamese! But I digress.

So, having gathered a good understanding of Middle Eastern cultural behaviours and some top-level introductions, we set-up shop in Doha. And a fat lot of good our homework did us. We, and our other UK associates, quickly learned that tender processes there are just a smokescreen for what is effectively a family affair.

One of our colleagues working in Sochi went to great lengths to establish local relationships, but still had to pay daily bribes – to the Russian Police! For the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, cash payments were the norm, and only in specified denominations.

Of course, bribery and corruption aren’t restricted to sporting events, or even to the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies – for the launch of a TV station in Turkey, money had to be handed over just to get the trucks into Istanbul itself. I could go on… but you get my drift.

And before anyone jumps up to quote examples of UK deals that have been less than transparent, shall we just agree that our own sense of ethical conduct (not to mention our anti-bribery legislation) puts us on a different level altogether to the emerging economies? In the run-up to London 2012, LOCOG staff weren’t even allowed to accept an invitation to lunch. The “Daily Mail Test” was applied to all commercial approaches; how might the tabloids interpret this?

So what’s the answer? The ever-helpful D.I.T. issues guidelines for aspiring UK exporters, and you should seek the best legal advice (we did) – but the ultimate choice is to either go with the flow or lose out. Sit in line for days waiting to cross a border or pragmatically part with a “queue-jump permit”.

But how do we square the accounts? I hear you ask. Well. You may hear your more world-weary clients whisper: “Just bill us an extra 10 per cent”.

But don’t take my word for it. The head of communications at a household name insurance company was once asked at a seminar for his most valuable tip for first-time overseas event organisers. His response? “Never take anything on trust – and carry a big bag of cash!”