Bahrain says it’s cheaper than Dubai, seeks IT investments from India

At a time when the economic downturn in the Gulf region has led to many Indian workers leaving these countries, a Gulf country is looking to woo Indian IT talent.

Bahrain, a country with 1.2 million people, is making an aggressive pitch to IT companies to set up shop in a region that is 30 per cent cheaper than Dubai. “Bahrain is the only country that allows businesses 100 per cent ownership without the need to have a local partner as an ally, which is the norm in other Gulf countries,” said John Kilmartin, Executive Director-ICT, Economic Development Board (EDB) of Bahrain.

The Bahrain EDB is a public agency chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa; it includes representatives of the Bahraini government and the private sector. A visiting EDB delegation met over a dozen companies in the IT sector — from software exporters to BPO companies.

However, the EDB did not disclose how many ventures or how much investments it was trying to attract.

Gateway to the Gulf

Kilmartin pointed out that Bahrain could be a gateway to the Gulf region, with its close access to Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the region. “Saudi is less than an hour’s drive away, and Riyadh, its business hub, is a four-hour drive. By plane, the United Arab Emirates is an hour by flight and Qatar just 25 minutes,” said Dharmi Magdani, Regional Director-India, Singapore and Malaysia, EDB of Bahrain.

Further, Bahrain is the home of Gulf Air, which has the largest regional network in the Gulf; following the opening of the Khalifa Bin Salman Port in April 2009, Bahrain has become a major regional trans-shipment centre, added Kilmartin.

Then there is the added benefit of zero taxes in the Gulf region.

Oil money drying up

Industry watchers believe that the opportunity in countries like Bahrain is opening up as the region, once flush with oil money, is increasingly coming under pressure due to falling oil prices.

“There are opportunities to cut costs and use technologies to stay relevant in business,“ said Sandeep Sen, Global Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director, Aegis. Aegis counts Saudi Telecom as one of its customers and has operations in the region.

“We are evaluating (Bahrain) for servicing customers in the Gulf region,” said the CEO of a top mid-sized company, who did not wish to be named as negotiations are still going on.

Some of the Indian software exporters such as TCS and Tech Mahindra already have a small presence in Bahrain.