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This week, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is scheduled to begin. While the faithful the world over gear up to begin their yearly time of fasting and reflecting, the time of Ramadan also influences business in and outside of the Muslim world.

 

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At first glance, the Muslim business world during Ramadan slows down as Muslim employees change their behavior. The faithful wake up early to eat breakfast before daybreak, and stay up late to dine after the sunset. This means less rest and less energy during the day, especially since it’s impossible to drink, “refuel” at lunch or with coffee. According to Jordanian economists studying the impact of Ramadan, productivity during the holy month shrinks by 35 to 50% across the Muslim world, depending on the countries.

At the same time, with the – very normal – tiredness that comes from the lack of rest and food, critical business decisions will often be postponed by the key players.

This serves to avoid rushed decisions coming from tiredness or irritability. If you are doing business with Muslim-majority countries, you will find that most critical decisions – partnerships, contracts etc. – will be put on hold during the fasting month.

While it’s easy to imagine the month of Ramadan as a freeze on all business transactions, the holy month also sees increased activity in some sectors. The demand for consumer goods, especially food, has – paradoxically – been shown to boom throughout the month, as people buy more food to break the fast during the Iftar evening meal. Cafes’ activity also soars during the month, as Muslim consumers head to the cafes after Iftar to spend the evening with the community.

Retailers across the Middle-East – particularly in the Gulf – also take the occasion during Ramadan to unveil their most important promotions of the year. Auto dealers, housing promoters, and others have very advantageous offers lined up for the holy month, up to the point where Muslim consumers will sometimes postpone their most important purchasing decisions in the hope that Ramadan offers will benefit them. The month sees a rush of consumer purchases, and dealers generate high amounts of business in the 28-day lunar period.

In the past few years, an unexpected industry benefited strongly from the Ramadan period as well : Travel agencies. Ramadan occurred during the summer months, which meant the travel industry saw a boom of Muslim people living in non-Muslim countries travelling to the Middle-East or Muslim countries in Asia or Africa, to spend their holidays and the fasting month with their families. This is only relatively short-term boom, however – as Ramadan “slides” progressively out of the Western summer period, that particular bonus won’t apply anymore.

Non-Muslim businesspeople interacting with the Middle-East would do well to see Ramadan as a time of prudence and reflection on their business decisions – but also as a time of opportunity, especially if their businesses are geared towards retail or the public at large. As always in business, the opportunity is only as good as what you make of it.

 

Morgan Philips – Africa & Middle East 

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