Logistics and transportation solutions company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Abnormal Load Services (WWL ALS) has organised the movement of outsize tunnelling equipment throughout Western Europe. Notably, this has included hefty TBM components through the twisting and inconveniently placed streets and urban detritus of London in the UK.

Excavation-related transportation makes up some of the company’s more challenging and impressive work. With a strong base in Europe, and an interest in delivering machinery to challenging worksites, an expansion into the Middle East with the impressive local pipelines of work is its newest speculation.

New venture
Bert Biermans, senior projects manager for WWL ALS has been posed to the region to develop the local market – the countries around the Persian Gulf and to co-operate with other companies within the Group. Following a year based in the Dutch office at Moerdijk, he has spent a year based in Dubai.

"We have made a quick start here, actually compared with our other regions we have made a remarkable start. We have been successful winning early business and presence, which is not entirely logical because the Middle East is a tough market. There are thousands of freight forwarders in Dubai, and a lot of them are local players who have a long history here."

Biermans says that he has been helped by existing WWL ALS presence and relationships in other sectors, but that about 50 per cent of the work is from new sources. In some cases, opening an of_ ce in the Middle East has been to facilitate negotiations relating to projects elsewhere in the world, for example in the mining industry, where there is a good deal of decision making taking place in the Gulf cities particularly for the African mining industry.

"Currently two things are quite clear. We are mainly working on railway projects and in the oil and gas and EPC contractor businesses. These are the most successful and seem to have the most potential. We don’t have any confirmed tunnelling jobs in the Middle East. Not like the UK and Europe where we are already very strong and get regular work, in the Middle East this is not yet the case."

The vast numbers of TBMs ordered for metro projects in the region – for example the 21 to be shipped to Doha from Herrenknecht’s factories in Schwanau – offer an attractive workload for logistics companies. Unfortunately for Biermans, setting up shop 10 months ago meant that bidding for the Doha Metro was not a possibility, however he sees a lot of potential in this sector although not over the next few months. "But if you look at the very impressive number of projects slated for places such as Qatar, Kuwait, and especially Saudi Arabia, there is a lot of opportunity. So there are certainly challenges, but also huge opportunities."


Cultural differences
On the challenges, Biermans explains: "Every region has its own style of doing business. This is mainly manifest in a difference in the negotiations process. For the Middle East, I would say it is key to really gain a relationship with your customer, and to earn their trust. Although price will always be a major factor, you have to prove yourself more than in Europe.

"But at the same time, you cannot talk about the Middle East (or other continents) as one market. Saudi Arabia is tougher than Oman or the UAE for that matter. They are much more involved with local parties, and it takes even longer there for an outsider to gain trust."

Biermans adds that he is helped by WWL ALS presence in other sectors in the region already. "It was a logical step because ALS was already active in different sectors which are of course important here. And we already had a large presence Europe, and in Africa also."

Multiple parties
In Europe, says Biermans, the tendency is to be awarded a contract for site supply from a manufacturer, in the case of large items. In the Middle East on the other hand, it is more common to get involved in projectspecific negotiations. "For example, the Riyadh Metro project – an enormous and important infrastructure scheme in the capital of Saudi Arabia – there is not just one single company to negotiate with.

These projects are so large and elaborate, that you have to negotiate with consortia, say five such corporate entities at a time, and work together. From a logistical and negotiation point of view, it is much more difficult to get in. This is also because a lot of these projects are state-controlled"