Thessaloniki is “one of those hidden secrets that not a lot of people know about” in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), although it has so much to offer in the tourism and investment sectors, as does western Macedonia itself, the UAE Ambassador to Greece Sulaiman Hamed Salem Al Mazroui said in an interview to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
Speaking on the sidelines of a special event held by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) in Thessaloniki on Tuesday, the ambassador said that bilateral Greece-UAE relations were strategic in nature and developing continuously. He noted that although political and military relations always had their ups and downs, the economic side was something everyone appreciated, and “the most sustainable aspect in any relations.”
The ambassador said the region of western Macedonia provided ample interests to tourism and investments as well, including in marble quarried in the region and in furs. “I think that this part of Greece needs to be promoted more than what it has been in our area,” he said, highlighting the significance of initiatives like the DMCC roadshow for both countries’ businesses to become acquainted.
The full interview of Ambassador Sulaiman Humad Salem Al Mazroui to Sofia Papadopoulou follows:
– Mr Ambassador, let me start with the situation in the Middle East which is once again ‘on fire’. What do you think of events there?
Let me start by saying that I am very happy to be here, in this beautiful city. I always appreciate coming to Thessaloniki because it is a beautiful city. I am also happy that we are able to bring business to this region. Last year we participated as the honoured country in the Thessaloniki International Fair, and it was an outstanding success. This year DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre) is having a roadshow, and this is also a fantastic idea for us as an embassy to bring business and to create awareness, for businesses here and businesses in the UAE to interact with each other. As for the Middle East, I wish you wouldn’t ask me because we are very saddened with what is happening there – killing and maiming… Wars never bring peace to that region. As UAE we always call for de-escalation, security, stability, peaceful means of resolving issues. So those are my feelings about this issue.
– How do you assess the current level of bilateral relations between Greece and the UAE?
Well, I can say with confidence that it is ever-growing. I am not going to talk about the political aspect, as we are strategic partners with Greece, one of the few countries that the UAE has a strategic partnership agreement with. So on all aspects I am seeing growth continuously going upward. So this is quite good for any ambassador to see relations strengthening. The most important thing for me is the economic side, because this is the most sustainable aspect in any relations. Political relations, military relations can always have ups and downs but the economy is always something to be appreciated by anybody. Businesses appreciate economic relations, governmentst appreciate economic relations. Businesses themselves grow and bring returns to the economy. So I am very happy that relations are growing in all aspects.
– The UAE was the honoured country at last year’s Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). Were there any tangible economic results after that, in terms of trade relations or investments?
The paramount benefit from any event that we do here is to create awareness. There are a lot of unclear pictures on both sides. The Greeks do not know a lot about the UAE, and vice versa. So when we participate – and this is truly what I aimed at when I jumped at the idea of being the guest of honour at the TIF – is to create awareness. To bring companies so that Greek businesses get introduced to them and vice versa. And that is what happened. We are told that out of that big what I call ‘razzmatazz’, or what we would say ‘the greatest show on earth’ last year, where we had a cultural side of the TIF exhibition, 60 major companies came and the best design was of our pavilion (no. 13), I think people mingled with each other, they got great ideas of what we offer and our companies also became more aware of what businesses are available here. I think we had from 800 to 1,000 interactions. Any percentage of that would be great for the business scope.
– Do you see any investment opportunities for the UAE in Northern Greece in particular? And If yes, in which fields?
We have a lot of projects that we do – energy, tourism and other investments, technology etc. But Thessaloniki is a very important area of Greece. It’s one of those hidden secrets that not a lot of people know about. I keep promoting it because it’s a beautiful city. So when you have a beautifully positioned city and with all of the attractions, you will always have tourism as one of the business fields you should tap on. Tourism of course requires aviation, airlines, flights etc. So now we are lucky that Aegean has started its flights to the UAE, to Dubai from this month. That will add to what already exists, 14 flights of Emirates. I think Etihad has a good number of flights from Athens, Emirates is also the only airline that goes to New York via Athens and back to Dubai. So you have two flights a day on Emirates only and then you have of course Wizz Air. And FlyDubai flies to the islands during the summer. So tourism is very important and I think that if people start discovering Thessaloniki, they will like it very much and we will have a huge momentum coming from the tourism side.
We also have a lot of other aspects of the economy one should look at too. Two years ago I visited Kozani, the western part of Macedonia, and I found that it has a lot of potential – especially saffron. And I was told that I am the only one from an Arab country to visit that region. I was able to explore the beauty of that region. I saw the marbles and saffron and the furs and a lot of things that could be promoted. I think that this part of Greece needs to be promoted more than what it has been in our area. So hopefully in addition to what we are doing from Athens, Thessaloniki will also have its share of tourism coming here, and businesses. I think that this momentum and initiatives that we are doing are going to bring results, in my opinion.
– Since we are here today (at the roadshow in Thessaloniki) to discuss global business growth opportunities with DMCC, could you present us with some ideas that would make Greek companies interested in investing in your country?
The UAE is in the centre of the region in the Gulf. We always say that our market is 2 billion people. India alone has a 1.4 billion population and above. We also have the largest man-made port in the world, port Jebel Ali. And I don’t want to mention all the tallest towers, etc. We are in the business of connecting the world, Dubai as a business hub. DMCC is located in Dubai and I think that because of the position and the nature of the business, they can only benefit those who get exposed to them. And I think that 23,000 members can actually be tapped by Greek businesses that can link them with businesses of all kind: from diamonds to rice, tea, coffee, sugar, etc. So the commodities are a lot, and I think that the way of doing business there is very advanced, that we make it so easy for businesses to get linked. They are in the business of linking people to people.
– Although Northern Greece is a popular holiday destination for several nationalities across the world, the people of the UAE don’t seem to choose in this part of the country for vacation. Is it because of the lack of a direct flight, lack of knowledge about what Northern Greece has to offer? And what can be done to change this?
I think you have to promote it. Very simple – it needs to be promoted. If it’s not promoted, people only know Athens and Mykonos and Santorini. This city has so much to offer and I really fell in love with it the minute I arrived here. So it needs to be promoted, you need to create awareness of what a city offers. History, location, entertainment. It’s one of the nicest cities I have seen in Europe, actually.
– Do you think that we know enough of each other, and what could be done to get closer?
Well, [do] initiatives like this. You get exposed to what we offer, and vice versa. So, more of these initiatives, more of these roadshows, will definitely introduce what we offer to the Greek business people and vice versa.