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United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt - Keep Your Eyes Open!

Date: December, 2009 --

These major Middle Eastern markets together contain a growing middle class and rapidly developing economies of successful and sophisticated businesses. Together they constitute a market of around 108 million people, with a young demographic. They also have creative and hard-working postal systems that have their eyes resolutely on the future.

The UAE, population 5 million, is actually made up of seven states: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah. The two largest and wealthiest are Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the latter being especially famous for the vast and rapid development over the last twenty years, and its current debt crisis. It boasts the largest transshipment port in the Middle East, the tallest building and tallest hotel in the Middle East, the only indoor ski hill in the Middle East, and who knows what else of the superlative! It'll bounce back from the collapse of Dubai World, never worry.

Direct mail, aside from unaddressed mail, has not been a major factor in these markets, but this is changing rapidly, and will continue to do so. Two obstacles have stood in the way: vision and infrastructure. Thanks to the Universal Postal Union and its Direct Mail Advisory Board, this is changing.

According to the DMAB's latest survey of postal systems worldwide, in the Arab Middle East, 94% of the posts now have addressed direct mail products such as bulk services and unaddressed services. Seventy-one percent have programs to create or source mailing lists and customer lists internally and 41% work with, and will refer you to, brokers. Moreover, 59% of them have direct mail advisory centers to help businesses plan and execute direct mail campaigns.

One of the big barriers to successful direct mailing into the region has been the fact that few of them have household delivery. The post is delivered to mailboxes in a central postal office and the head of the household, usually the father or the father's driver, would pick up the mail directly from the box. You can imagine what would happen to DM pieces promoting make-up!

This too is changing. Saudia Arabia and Egypt are developing sophisticated address systems in order to provide to-the-door delivery. Egypt Post already delivers pension checks and benefits directly to the homes of 300,000 pensioners over the age of 70, as well as money order payments and parcels. Lists are in development even as is the address system and commercialization will not be far behind.

Emirates Post now offers direct injection of ad materials into business and personal mailboxes in their post offices. Addressed envelopes won't be far behind since family and business names are attached to the same postal box for years. You may move your office, but you won't move your post box, unless you have mail delivered to your office.

This latter solution is rapidly becoming a possibility since Citymail, the subsidiary of Norway Post, launched operations in the region last year. With the permission of the local posts it is beginning to provide direct-to-home/business service. International mail is cleared into the country to the Post, who hands off to Citymail the letters and parcels addressed to its own clients. As it builds out its customer base, Citypost is building lists of b2b and b2c prospects.

Saudi Post has not only mapped and given addresses to every building in the Kingdom, it advertises that it has data on every business, many households, and has the demographic data to help you target potential customers. The US DMA only last year announced that it now has an agreement to help the brand-new Direct Marketing Association of Saudi Arabia with education courses and conferences, the first of which was held last March.

Home delivery will take some time to start, as people are not accustomed to it and houses are not designed to receive mail. To speed up the process of delivery to residences, the post has launched a program called 'Wassel'. They provide a unique postal address through the new geographic information systems, then install the boxes at customer houses, and deliver the keys free of charge for the life time of the box.

Saudi post also has a program called 'My Address in the United States' to which a Saudi consumer can have parcels shipped from US direct mail sellers and catalogers. The Post then handles shipment, Customs clearance, and final delivery.

There is definitely a lot going on in the Middle East and a large number of profitable opportunities there which Data Services can help you reach.