Restoration of direct air links between Georgia and Iran can get back on the agenda – it all depends on how actively the Iranians will arrive in Tbilisi since March 21, when the country begins to celebrate the New Year holidays.
However, it is possible that the problem with the visa regime will fail this tourist season because the Iranian banking system works with limitations due to the Western sanctions – respectively, the citizens of the country cannot receive the recently introduced electronic visas which must be paid by plastic card.
According to Rahim Abachi, President of the Georgia-Iran Chamber of Commerce, Georgia simplified visa regime through the introduction of electronic visas, but the citizens of Iran cannot pay for them, as the Iranian cards are valid only within the country, and the number of people having international cards is small.
“It took about 2 months to obtain a visa at the embassy located in Tehran after tightening the visa regime and now, as they say, no more than 5 days. However, due to problems with the cards, a few citizens of Iran will be able to visit Georgia. From this point of view it would be nice if the Georgian consulates opened in other major cities of the country,”- he says.
In his words, in the second half of March it will be clarified how a system of electronic visas justified itself – if during the Iranian New Year Georgia is visited by at least 1 000 citizens, then it will be a good indicator.
“In this case, a resumption of air connection between Georgia and Iran will be on the agenda. Prior to the introduction of visa regulations, direct flights were performed from Tehran to Tbilisi and Batumi, but in October they were stopped. Currently, visitors can fly from Iran to Georgia only fly through Baku or Istanbul, but passengers have to wait there for hours, “- Rahim Abachi notes.
According to the Chamber, because of the visa regime not only businessmen from Iran leave Georgia, but also tourists who annually brought the country up to $ 130 million.
Visa-free communication with Iran was canceled unilaterally by the Georgian government in 2013, but it was possible to obtain a visa at the border, in a simplified manner. Since September 2014 the Georgian government has tightened visa regulation, and Iran was included in the list of the countries with a full visa regime.
The system of electronic visas was introduced in February 2015. To obtain it, the foreign national must submit a photo, copy of the passport, reservation in the hotel or invitation, round trip ticket , insurance, financial guarantees and pay for a visa which costs $ 50.
Its preparation requires no more than 10 days.