Irish travellers visit Spain and Portugal in their droves at least two million last year alone. While we have long exported our tourism to Iberia, the same cannot always be said for Irish firms.
Given the proximity of two Eurozone neighbours whose GDP is five times that of Ireland, with both offering gateways to growing domestic markets, and to Latin America and Africa, Irish exporters should take a closer look.
While both Spain and Portugal joined Ireland, Italy and Greece as the hardest hit economies during the recession, like our country, they have emerged showing above average Eurozone growth. With a population 10 times that of Ireland, Spain offers the larger market opportunity. Its GDP is €1.2trn, five times that of Ireland, while a growth rate of 2.1pc has been forecast by the International Monetary Fund for 2019.
While unemployment remains high at 14.7pc, in key sectors such as telecoms, banking, travel tech and services, it offers a wealth of expertise, as would be expected from a country that is home to the telecoms and banking giants Telefonica and Banco Santander. Spain's logistics infrastructure is excellent, hosting two of Europe's biggest airports in Madrid and Barcelona.
Its 46 ports serve the Atlantic and Mediterranean, while its internal rail network is one of Europe's most advanced. It has the digital infrastructure to match, and ranks fourth in the world for egovernment services.
At Enterprise Ireland's Ambition Spain and Portugal event in Dublin, delegates heard how exports to the market from companies we support totalled €338m last year.
Gedeth Network founder Juan Millán advised attendees to also consider the region as a gateway to South America: "It's a good place to access decision makers for firms in Latin America, as they have headquarters in Madrid and Barcelona."
Irish firms can look to some of the market's strongest growing sectors, such as telecommunications, life sciences and agriculture, which are all forecast to grow. Telecoms is expected to grow to around €21bn by 2022, with agriculture growing to €27.4bn. Tourism remains huge, at more than €180bn per year, half the GDP of Ireland, offering opportunities to firms in travel tech.
Being the smaller neighbour has not stopped Portugal from transforming into a highincome, advanced economy with a high living standard. Its growth forecast of 2.2pc for 2019 is ahead of the likes of Germany, with unemployment steady at 6.8pc.
Both markets have already yielded opportunities for Irish companies. Last month, a trade event organised by Enterprise Ireland introduced eight Irish firms to 24 Portuguese buyers, with all aiming to make inroads into Iberian markets.
Accessing either market requires thorough research. While there are traditional barriers to entry, such as mature supply chains and language challenges, a range of Enterprise Ireland supports are available to assist firms looking to futureproof their export sales. These include the Market Discovery Fund and GradStart, which provides up to 70pc of two year salaries for graduates with relevant market language skills.
Enterprise Ireland's office in Madrid is ready to assist companies interested in turning sun, sea and sand into export success.