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LOOKS TO THE EAST AND TO THE WEST

The easiest and fastest way to get to the heart of a destination is through music and food. “Rast”, a musical modal system in traditional mugham music, will quickly get under your skin. It evokes courage, cheerfulness and promotes peacefulness, a trait that all Azerbaijanis have in common. Rast is the oldest form of traditional mugham music, which is quite similar to jazz and the perfect way to tell a story. It’s based on improvisation and constant reinvention. The perfect metaphor to describe the immensely hospitable and warm people of Azerbaijan, who are making business tourism services stronger each year. This is part of the country’s transformation. A country that remains the bridge between Asia and Europe, hosting events of the highest calibre in its capital city of Baku.

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On the Silk Road

Baku was once a very important post on the ancient trade route linking China with the West. Silk got replaced by oil and today, meeting participants are the regulars. A strong strategic position by the Caspian Sea is one of the key advantages of Baku. Developing the railway system connecting Baku, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and Kars in Turkey was an immensely important strategic project. It’s also the shortest connection between Europe and Asia. Azerbaijan’s tradition of hospitality is known around the world and is something everyone will be able to experience. Every traveller will be able to find his sanctuary in Baku. He will probably also be invited to tea, keeping tradition alive and well.

The Dubai of the Caucasus

Baku has seen incredible development in the last decade. Giant, gleaming commercial and residential buildings are growing like weeds. European entrepreneurs, who come to Baku for fresh opportunities, are opening new, modernly equipped offices on a weekly basis. A city of 2 million needs modern infrastructure and that is where Baku’s polished metro line comes in handy. Numerous international companies have moved to Baku, mostly those involved with the oil industry. Comparing Baku to Dubai is quite common, but the city offers so much more. It has managed to keep the old city centre intact, along with many cultural and historical monuments, making it even more attractive.

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Meetings renaissance

With the opening of Baku Convention Centre in 2015, meetings tourism in Baku started to flourish. The neighbouring Heydar Aliyev Center was completed three years prior. Both buildings are iconic and represent the turning of a new chapter for Baku’s meetings industry. Their completion was the foundation for future development in the city. Contributing greatly to the fast development was the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau, which started operations in 2013. For the past two years, the Bureau has been part of Azerbaijan Tourism Board and its young team of professionals, under the leadership of Sevda Aliyeva, has high ambitions. From what we’ve seen, those goals will be achieved in no time. Connections between providers are really strong and the Tourism Board has successfully transformed into a real one-stop-shop for meeting planners.

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Feminine and masculine architecture principles

An interesting architectural dialogue has been established between two of Baku’s most iconic buildings., between the masculine Baku Convention Centre which resembles a spaceship and the magnificent, more feminine architecture of the Heydar Aliyev Centre. Many visit Baku just to eye these two impressive buildings. Both projects are extravagant and have become architectural icons for good reason.

The international superstar architect Zaha Hadid has left a big mark on the city with her futuristic Heydar Aliyev Center. It’s arguably her most impressive work. The centre houses a library, museum, meetings centre, and art exhibitions on multiple floors and a jaw-dropping collection of cars. Zaha’s architecture is all about avoiding straight lines. The white waves and rounded edges make everything feel more organic, flowing seamlessly and elegantly into the park outside. Her architecture impresses at every moment and every step. The building is a sculpture in itself. And just when you think things couldn’t get any crazier, you step into the meeting hall, where massive oak arches cradle the participants. The acoustics are impressive and everything seems as if it were created by nature.

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The Baku Convention Center is a stroll across the street from the Heydar Aliyev Center. It was designed by Austrian architect, Wolf D. Prix together with his team from the architectural bureau Coop Himmelblau from Vienna. The exterior of the building looks like a spaceship in the mid-takeoff into another galaxy. The interior follows a more refined aesthetic and strives towards being efficient, as part of the centre’s functionalist principles. Innovativeness and research is driven by a strong desire to be energetically more efficient, ecological and in line with the latest technologies. This can be felt throughout the entire building, especially in the main meeting hall that can host up to 3500 participants and has enviably advanced equipment. The hall can be completely transformed using hydraulic lifts, elevators and two giant movable walls on each side. In addition to the fast development of the hotel sector, these two impressive buildings are the main support pillars for Baku’s new meetings future.

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Large events as part of a strategy

In Baku, they are firm believers that events have a positive effect on the city’s image in the public eye, as every event it acquires strengthens Baku as a brand. It is because of this that Baku has been the host of numerous, internationally resounding mega events, which have helped position it on the list of the most important metropolises. Eurovision in 2012 was one of those mega events, with Eldar & Nigar bringing Baku the home win. Everyone will remember the slogan; “Light your fire” and the impeccable organisation of the event in Baku’s Crystal Hall, when over 20,000 participants attended the spectacle.

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Baku Crystal Hall (Photo: azerbaijan.travel)

The First European Games in 2015 were a sports experiment, but Baku managed to carry them out on such a high level you could easily compare them to the Olympics. The grand opening was directed by James Hadley, famous for his magical Cirque du Soleil spectacle.

Baku is also known as the home of “Street Fighters” and has been hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix since 2016, making it the newest street circuit on the Formula 1 calendar. The Baku City Circuit is one of the most challenging tracks of the championship and also one of the most attractive, as drivers whiz past the tight bends in Baku’s old town and reach top speed along the Baku shoreline.

These kinds of events are first-class promotional tools and their marketing effects can not be measured through regular marketing channels. It’s not even surprising that Baku was on the list of candidates to host the Olympics in 2020. The bid was won by Tokyo, but there is no doubt that we will hear about Baku in this context.

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Photo: www.formula1.com

Special venues inside the medieval city walls

The mighty stone walls with guard towers surrounding the old town immediately caught the attention of F1 fans, as videos of dramatic overtakes around the city walls went viral. The Icheri Sheher grandstand in the old town is one of the most popular spots from which to watch the race. The labyrinth of narrow streets and old houses hide numerous special venues like the Palace of the Shirvanshahs built by one of the Shahs of the Shirvan dynasty in the 15th century. According to UNESCO, it is one of the pearls of Azerbaijani architecture. Another interesting venue is the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature, situated in a gorgeous park where many young people come to hang out. It’s also the starting point of the main shopping street, Nizami. When walking along the streets of the Inner City you will find yourself taken aback by the palaces built during the 19th century oil boom. To contrast the imposing buildings around Baku, there are also plenty of cute hidden places like the Marionette Theatre.

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A determined meetings scene

The core of Baku’s ultramodern meetings offer are the Baku Convention Center and Heydar Aliyev Center. The Baku Convention Center has 16 conference halls of different sizes and 73 smaller meeting rooms. The city is more than capable of organising large meetings, which is why our methodology positions it among XL Destinations—destinations that can host more than 2000 participants. Optimal meetings in Baku are up to 3500 participants.

For mega events, there’s the Baku Crystal Hall, built specifically for the Eurovision finals in 2012. It can host 23,000 participants and has an impressive LED facade used to project colourful animations.

The range of services is nicely rounded off by numerous hotels specialised in meetings tourism, among which Hotel Boulevard, part of Marriott’s Autograph collection, is the largest. It offers 800 rooms and an impressive meetings centre. The backbone of Baku’s hotels are the three hotels on the main city avenue, the Four Seasons, JW Marriott Absheron and Hilton, along with a handful of others with well-developed meetings services. The Fairmont is probably the most famous hotel, as it is located in the instantly recognisable Baku Flame Towers. The hotel offers an incredibly diverse range of services and there simply isn’t enough space to list them all. Baku also has a well-developed fair activity, with most fairs being carried out in the Baku Expo Center which extends across 26,000 sqm of space and three large fair halls.

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Baku Convention Centre (Photo: azerbaijan.travel)

Instead of a conclusion

Azerbaijan is excellently prepared to tackle meetings industry challenges. International association conferences can be organised in the Baku Convention Center and incentive programme organisers will find great services in top-notch hotels. The services provided by local PCOs and DMCs is also well developed. From the standpoint of European event planners, Baku is an overlooked destination which should be getting more attention. It has a complete meetings package that won’t disappoint. The quality-to-price ratio is incomparable and is one of the reasons why you should be taking your next event to Baku.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Azerbaijan was the first country in the Muslim world to give women voting rights, well before many European countries did.

BAKU INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2019

A. Natural and cultural factors: 4.81

The Caucasus Mountains stretch across the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, positioned at the intersection of continents and cultures. Culture is something Azerbaijanis are very proud of and rightfully so, as their national heritage is immensely rich. They also gladly present it to their guests. Despite rapid development, many historical monuments have been kept intact, making the city even more interesting. Baku’s charm and historical importance was recognised by UNESCO in 1977. Call it the Paris or Dubai of the Caucasus, the city definitely won’t disappoint when it comes to natural and cultural factors.

B. General and transport infrastructure: 4.81

The oil boom heavily transformed the look of the 2 million strong city, which is in the middle of architectural blossoming. There is still a lot of socialist realist architecture on the outskirts of the city, but the beachfront promenade is completely modern and well taken care of. Air connectivity is solid and the modern Baku airport has non-stop passenger flights scheduled to 78 destinations. A good sense of safety raises the overall well-being of meeting participants and public transport infrastructure is also well maintained and orderly.

C. Tourist infrastructure: 4.91

According to official statistical data, the combined number of hotel beds is 14,800. A large portion of that belongs to higher category hotels that offer above-standard meetings services. The new e-visa system allows tourists incredibly easy access to the destination. We tried it ourselves and it was really fast and efficient. The selection of restaurants, bars and nightclubs is extremely diverse, ranging from iconic traditional restaurants like the Shirvanshah Museum Restaurant to cool, trendy places in the new part of the city. Shopping is comparable to Dubai with none of the usual luxury brands missing.

D. Meetings infrastructure: 4.88

We evaluate Baku’s meeting infrastructure as excellent, ready to take on the most demanding international events. In the future, an important role will be taken on by the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau which has some really ambitious plans. Talking with the representatives, their focus will be directed towards acquiring large events, association congresses and developing incentive programmes.

E. Subjective grade: 4.92

Comparing Baku to Dubai is hard to avoid. The biggest differences are culturally bound. The country is secular and extremely multicultural. It is because of this that the city is so suitable for meetings tourism. Everything is spiced up with a hefty dose of authentic hospitality and the happy, open Azerbaijani character makes a great first impression. One big myth was busted upon having explored the city thoroughly. Azerbaijan does not lack authenticity. It is actually one of its greatest assets.

F. Marketing Buzz: 4.70

The Azerbaijan Convention Bureau is in the middle of launching multiple marketing projects with the goal of thoroughly changing the perception and image of the country. Right now, the marketing buzz score is relatively low, as you can not yet find all of the information about the destination in one place. They are, however, putting in a great effort to improve in this field. We are certain that comprehensive content and digital marketing will drastically improve the image of Baku.

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MTLG INDEX / 2019 EDITION

XL  MEETING DESTINATION

Destinations that can host more than 2000 congress attendees.

DESTINATION CAPACITY

  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotel rooms: 7.000
  • The number of 4* and 5* category hotels: 80
  • Banquet hall maximum capacity: 900
  • The largest hall in the city (in m2): 5.019 m2
  • Destination population: 3.202.300
  • Maximum hall capacity in theatre style: 3.500

BAKU OVERALL PERFORMANCE

Natural and cultural factors: 4.81
General and transport infrastructure: 4.81
Tourist infrastructure: 4.91
Meeting infrastructure: 4.88
Subjective grade: 4.92
Marketing Buzz 4.70
ICCA index: 2.20
Numbeo Quality of Life Index: 2.38
Numbeo Safety Index: 4.38
ACI Airport Connectivity Index: 5.00

OVERALL SCORE: 4.30

COMPARISON WITH THE REGION

Baku is the meetings champion of the region and basically has no competition in the Caucasus. Neighbouring Georgia is putting in a great effort, but hasn’t reached the level of infrastructural development that can be seen in Baku. On a wider spectrum, the biggest competition for Baku are countries that count on the connection between Asia and Europe. Countries like Istanbul, Dubai and other emirates. We mustn’t forget the ex-Soviet space, where the meetings industry is also rapidly developing. During our visit, the Baku Convention Centre was hosting a sales conference for the Russian auto manufacturer Vaz and an increasing number of Russian corporate events are taking place in the city each year. One of the reasons is that most Azerbaijanis speak Russian as their second or even first language. A bright, creative, hospitable and modern country like Baku is bound to develop even further. I won’t be surprised if the former oil-industry mecca also becomes a mecca for the meetings industry.

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MUST SEE

Baku Carpet Museum – Baku’s iconic carpet museum is unlike anything you’ve seen before. It houses beautiful carpets, which are firmly embedded in Azerbaijani heritage and can easily be considered works of art. A visit to the museum can be incorporated into almost any incentive programme.

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COOL MEETINGS

Plov (pilaf) – It is impossible to imagine any gathering, party, wedding or other festivity without flavoured, tender and incredibly tasty pilaf. Among the types of pilaf, is Crown Pilaf (Shah Plov) the name of which derives from its appearance that resembles the crown of the medieval ruler.

HOT IN 2019

  • FORMULA 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix / 26–28 April 2019
  • UEFA Europe League Final / 29 May 2019
  • Caspian International Oil & Gas Exhibition / 29 May–1 June 2019
  • Fintex Summit 2019 / 16–17 May 2019
  • European Championships in Aerobic Gymnastics Baku 2019 / April 2019
  • International Banking Forum / 6 November 2019

BEST INCENTIVE IDEA

The Land of Fire: Due to a high concentration of natural gas, a geological phenomenon has occurred. Yanar Dag or “burning hillsides” are caused by gas seeping through fissures in the earth and catching fire, creating an impressive natural sight. Numerous agencies organise trips to the Burning Mountain, but keep in mind that the place can get extremely hot in the summer days.

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WHO TO CONTACT

Azerbaijan Convention Bureau
Azerbaijan Tourism Board
96E Nizami Street, Landmark I
Baku, AZ1010, Azerbaijan
+994 12 505 87 04 ext. 2102
+994 51 229 60 44
+994 55 470 02 20
meetinazerbaijan.com