Ireland is Scotland’s nearest European neighbour and many Scottish companies are already making the most of the close trading links between the two nations.
Scotland’s cultural links with the Republic of Ireland run deep. From kilts, tartan and bagpipes to Gaelic, shinty and hurling, the two Celtic nations share common threads stretching back through many parts of their histories.
Those close links continue to this day. The latest statistics from the Scottish Government reveal that just over 4 per cent of all of Scotland’s exports – or £1.1 billion of goods and services – is exported to Ireland, making the country Scotland’s sixth-largest market behind only the United States, the distribution hub in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway.
Economic ties between the two nations look set to be strengthened by the launch at Edinburgh Castle in June of the Irish Business Network Scotland (IBNS), which aims to build relationships between individuals and companies within the two countries.
“Scottish exports to Ireland are worth around £1.1bn, while the turnover of Irish businesses here in Scotland is over £2.5bn, supporting nearly 6,000 jobs,” said Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs. “The Scottish Government is pleased to welcome the development of the IBNS to provide a way for businesses wanting to expand to tap into companies with experience already located in Scotland.”
The launch of the network came just a few months after the Scottish Government opened an innovation and investment hub at the British embassy in Dublin, back in January.
Experienced diplomat John Webster has been appointed as the head of the new hub. “We also welcome the close collaboration that has already begun between the IBNS and the Scottish Innovation and Investment Hub in Ireland, to ensure opportunities are developed for Scottish companies wanting to trade or invest in Ireland,” Hyslop added.
One firm that’s already making the most of the close links with Ireland is Rabbie’s, the Edinburgh-based mini-coach tour operator. The company began running trips in Ireland in 2011 as a pilot programme, with its Irish business having now grown to account for 5 per cent of its total turnover last year and a predicted 7 per cent this year.
“We started operating in Ireland because our customers kept asking us too,” explained chief executive Robin Worsnop, who founded Rabbie’s in 1993 and has grown the business to encompass 60 tour coaches that together bring in £9 million of revenues. “It was the Celtic connection – we have a lot of customers from the United States and Canada, and when they come over to Europe they will often want to visit both Scotland and Ireland.
“A lot of the tour operators that we work with sell trips to both Scotland and Ireland and so we could see an opportunity to offer them tours in both countries. Due to the 2008 global crisis – which affected the Eurozone’s tourism industry much more than the UK, because of the value of Sterling falling – we also found that there was an enormous hunger in Ireland from operators to work with us.
“The suppliers in Ireland were incredibly accommodating to us and so it was all straight forward. There had been an awful lot of investment in hotel stock in Ireland during the Noughties and so the prices we were getting on hotels of a similar quality to Scotland were fantastic.
“So it all made logical sense. It’s been very successful so we’ve grown it from there. Last year we got about 75 per cent growth in Ireland and this year we’re expecting a further 60-70 per cent.”
Worsnop – who is also chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group and chairman of Edinburgh-based food company Mara Seaweed – is now mulling over plans to open a permanent office in Ireland to help grow his business in the market. Rabbie’s works with a partner in Ireland, which delivers its programme of tours.
“One of the great things about doing business in Ireland is that we share a common language,” says Worsnop. “There’s also a lot of commonality with the legislation. The tax regime is similar. You can look at companies on the Irish version of Companies House. So there’s lots of familiar ways of doing things.
“I think the Irish have a lot more of a ‘can do’ attitude when it comes to working with us – often more than we find when we’re looking for partners in the UK. There’s a sense of appreciation of tourism in Ireland that’s deeply-rooted in their culture of offering welcome and friendliness. We find working in Ireland is a fantastic experience.”
Worsnop’s top tip for companies that are thinking about trading in Ireland is to go and visit potential partners. “You can’t beat meeting the people you’re going to be doing business with face-to-face and getting to know them,” he says. “You need to get over there and understand the way they tick.
“I think that doing business in Ireland is closer to doing business in the UK than in any other country. In the past, I setup in Barcelona and that was incredibly complex and really hard work getting my head around all the differences and the way they operate – some of them downright disruptive. That’s not the case in Ireland.”
Business opportunities in Ireland
Ireland is an ideal first step market for Scottish firms looking to grow beyond the domestic market. Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be hosting a series of free events to help Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) explore trade opportunities with Ireland – providing the right connections, market insight and expert advice.
Learn how the new Scottish innovation and investment hub, launched in Dublin earlier this year, can support your business. Plus meet market experts including export advisers, Enterprise Europe Network, GlobalScot and like-minded Scottish firms already trading successfully in Ireland.