The FINANCIAL -- It was in November of 2010 when Georgia lifted its visa requirements for
Iranian citizens, since then the number of tourists flowing into the
country has tripled, reaching 60 thousand in 2011 and 24 thousand in the
first five months of 2012 alone.
Iranian businesses are making huge investments in Georgia, a close ally of the USA in the region which recently suffered a war with Russia.
This is not just about tourism, claims Mahmoud Davari, an Iranian businessmen who has been living in Georgia for 12 years already and has also got Georgian citizenship. As he says, “Iranians want to find a safe place to invest and Georgia is where Iranians are turning their gaze to now. We want to make Georgia a second Dubai for Iranian investors”. He also adds that Iranians have taken an interest in the new city Lazika project, the construction of which many remain sceptical about.
Most of Davari’s work in the past involved hotel management in Iran, Dubai and Africa. He is also the three times champion of Iran in Kiokoshin-kai Karate.
As he told The FINANCIAL, Georgia is his second motherland. “I have Georgian citizenship, a Georgian wife, Rusudan, and a son named Nikoloz; I have not left Georgia in the last three years. I even want to be buried here because I love this country so much.”
Being in Georgia Davari has mostly been occupied with import/export activities, but has also built several hotels and also now plans to build a brand new Chinese Karate Club to train Georgian sportsmen and help them win various championships.
Last year he established the “Iran-Georgia Business Development Center” together with Rusudan Keleptrishvili (his wife) and Farhad Rashidi, a partner. He claims that the Center unites seven Iranian companies and serves like a family for any Iranian investor who wants to know more about the country and its investment opportunities.
Davari also currently serves as a board member of the International Chamber of Commerce headed by Fady Asly.
“The Iran-Georgia Business Development Center is a group of private investors from Iran who are investing in different sectors of the Georgian economy,” said Mr. Davari.
“I have been in Georgia for 12 years already and during that time have been involved in different kinds of business activities. Since 2005 I have been General Manager of GeorgIran Company (Construction and hotel accommodation) Georgia. Then in 2010 I founded “Georgian Nab Noosh International’’ and the “Iran-Georgia Business Development Center”. We have been importing different kinds of beverages like Aloe Vera, iodized salt Rifan, Spaghetti Roshd etc. Little by little as our contacts grew, we decided that we had to create one centre which would be like a family for Iranian businessmen in Georgia. There was huge interest among our friends and others who wanted to invest in Georgia. There were many who had gone to former Soviet Republics and other parts of Europe to find places to invest only to return to Georgia because they loved the people, environment, food and everything here so much.”
In our centre we have seven different companies; we have already purchased 15 hectares of land near Tbilisi Sea and want to build 170 villas there with their own school where children will be taught in English, Georgian and Iranian. We will build several entertainment centres too. The latter will be a big tourism complex not just for Iranians but for anyone in Tbilisi who wants to rest and relax. This project has already been started and will be finished within two years; the budget of the Tbilisi Sea tourism complex is 15 million USD. Mr. Hashemi is himself investing in these 15 hectares of land. The reason we are building this complex is that Iran is a very developed country and the standard of living there is high, so when Iranian tourists/families come to Tbilisi , we want to show them a new, green place to rest and enjoy life here. In addition when those tourists and businessmen stay there, we hope that they will start to look at Georgia’s investment potential as well.
Another plot of land we have bought is about 5.5 hectares and is around the other side of Tbilisi Sea. Out of 5.5 hectares 1.5 has already been designated for building a villa. Then we will be renting the rest of those spaces for anyone with interest in a villa.
We, together with another group of Iranian investors, are also thinking about building a large aqua park at Tbilisi Sea. The aqua park will have a large swimming pool and access to the sea with its own small port, and then we will have a two-storey boat going out on to the water and hold parties there etc. All of this will cost about 50 million USD. The latter is just a plan and has not yet been started but we are thinking about it at present. And we hope that many Iranian investors will take an interest in it as time goes by.
Q. How about Iranian investments in Batumi?
A. Another investment made by our partner company was in Orbi-Group construction which is located in Batumi. Mr. Amir bought two full floors of the building with 48 apartments. Why did we buy those apartments? Because when Iranian tourists come to Georgia they want to enjoy Batumi and be able to stay in a premier class apartment.
Q. What attracts Iranian investors to Georgia?
A. When I was in Georgia in 1999-2003 there was no investment atmosphere in this country, guns and corruption reigned, whilst since the Rose Revolution and President Saakashvili came into power, the environment for investors changed drastically and remains positive. For Iranian businessmen it is guarantee of rights and security which matter the most. For investors coming to this country, Georgia offers the best conditions, a limited amount of taxes, good legislative system and in general a very good and calm environment.
Iranian businessmen are interested in different sectors in Georgia such as agriculture, construction, tourism, food processing and recycling etc. Some of them have already bought several hectares of land in Marneuli, Kakheti, Batumi and other areas. In terms of agro products they mostly look at cereal products.
Q. Up until last year there was a limited number of Iranian investors in Georgia. What has caused the increase in their number?
A. It was just since last year that Iranian interest was raised which was mainly due to the visa free regime because until that time only a few businessmen came here and they would stay for year and then once their visa expired, return. That was it.
But now as we have since started the promotion of Georgia among Iranian investors, I receive dozens of emails every day. They ask what the new opportunities and areas to invest in are etc. For now most of the investors have an interest in buying land, hotels and houses in Adjara, Kobuleti, Tbilisi and agro lands in different areas.
In addition, as the new city Lazika project was aired, a group of investors became very interested in this project and I’m sure that they will soon start to take part in the construction of this project as it is very attractive for them. So in general Iranian investors will be bringing huge money to this project.
There are several Georgian beverage companies which will soon start exporting their mineral water to the Iranian market and the latter is huge because there are 73 million people living there so there are huge opportunities for Georgian companies to export to Iran.
Since last year Georgian beverage companies have been trying to export to the Iranian market but the thing is that in Iran there are certain rules to follow before you start exporting goods. In addition there are several other Iranian water companies which are not only serving the Iranian market but also exporting their water to many countries. So the Iranian side never said, “No! We will not allow Georgian water to be exported to Iran”, Instead they said, “Wait while we correct the procedures and then we will return to the subject”. Right now we are pushing them to do so and I’m sure that we will see Georgian water in Iran soon because Iranians love Georgia and its natural resources.
Broader Statistics about Iran-Georgia provided by Geostat: The numbers of visitors staying in Georgian hotels were as follows: in 2009 - 546 visitors whilst in 2010 - more than 16,000. Most of their visits were business trips whilst the rest were made for entertainment and tourism purposes.
Export from Iran to Georgia: There were 85 million USD amounts of goods and services imported in Georgia from Iran in 2011. Most of the goods were Petrolium Coke (20 million USD) and the rest made up of different ceramics, automobiles and some other oil products. In 2012 (first four months) similar varieties of goods were imported to the amount of 20 million USD.
Export from Georgia to Iran: In 2011 - 16 million USD exports were registered by Geostat. Most of the goods were scrap metals, timber and a limited amount of automobiles. In 2012 (4 months) - the exports amounted to roughly 1.6 million USD.