Meetings No 24
Define Purpose
Long live the ‘both/and’ world in which purpose reigns.
Cover Story
Your Future is Now
Kevin Cottam on ancient wisdom meeting modern leadership.
2031 Vision, Brisbane
Encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more.
Paths of Progress
The Biggest Challenge Is a Lack of Awareness About Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan embarks on its journey into the business events sector.
Psychological Meetings
Cognitive Dysfunction (Brain Fog)
Hans Gordon about when we humans allow a lot to go wrong.
IBTM World 2019: The Importance of Mentoring In the Events Industry
Always be generous with your knowledge.
Why We Refuse to See the Bright Side, Even Though We Should
Steven Pinker on the subject of irrational pessimism.
White Blossom on Repeat
Flowering melancholy from Sweden.
Network to Share Its Expertise: Learn How Your City Can Become Future-Proof
The European Green Capital Network has launched its Future-proof Toolkit.
The Goal Is 300 Destinations by 2022
GDS-Index shares their audacious goal.
Fear Is a Liar
We all need to fortify our hope.
Dublin Has the World’s First Carbon-­Neutral Convention Centre
One of Europe’s most environmentally friendly venues.
Artificial Intelligence
Human Compatible AI and the Problem of Control
Success would be the biggest event in human history, and perhaps the last event.
IBTM World Should Include Not Exclude
Don’t be sorry. Change the rules!
Press stop!
ACTE, Corporate Travel Executives
has ceased operations and will file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Re-opening time
Dubai hotel operators,
cautiously optimistic, as tourists begin to trickle in.
one step at the time
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
gets the green light to reopen.
330 million jobs worldwide
European Cities Marketing
call for an open and permanent dialogue between European institutions and local destinations.
More than 300 people
ICC Sydney
launches industry leading hybrid event solutions.

RAI Amsterdam
one of first European venues to reopen without visitor number restrictions.
Emirates airline refunds over $500m to passengers
Still over 500,000 refund requests.

Cologne ready for business events
trade fairs are indispensable as central business meeting points.
safety & Security
Ras Al Khaimah
becomes the first city in the world to be certified as safe by Bureau Veritas.
strong program
UFI, has announced that ICC Sydney is the winner
of the UFI Sustainable Development Award 2020.
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The Biggest Challenge Is a Lack of Awareness About Azerbaijan

With almost three millennia of the Zoroastrian culture behind them, it’s fair to say that the Azerbaijanis know a thing or two about the inherent properties of fire.

This might even be the source of the country’s current burning desire to get itself on the international tourism map, and Azerbaijan and its capital city of Baku is certainly blazing a trail with some high-profile events in recent years.

The hosting of the Eurovision song contest in 2012 at Baku’s impressive Crystal Hall on the Caspian waterfront put the country centre stage to a vast European audience, as has securing an annual slot on the Formula 1 calendar since 2016, one of only three city circuits on the entire schedule, which casts a full-beam headlight on the city.

Add to this being the host city for the UEFA Europa League final in 2019 and set to also host games for UEFA Euro 2020 and Azerbaijan has felt a further significant boost to its visitor numbers.

Not content to muscle its way into attracting its slice of the global leisure tourism market. However, Azerbaijan has set its sights firmly on elevating its allure as a global business events destination too.

Much of the responsibility for this rests with the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau and in place to oversee this is Sevda Aliyeva, who has served as its director since the Azerbaijan Tourism Board was established and the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau became a part of the entire Azerbaijan Tourism Board structure.

Before holding her current role, she has also been the Executive Director of the Baku Convention Bureau, both parts being positions that for her have cemented the importance of Baku establishing itself as a prime business event location for event organisers worldwide.

“The development of the business events industry is important, as it brings international recognition for the country,” says Sevda Aliyeva. “In Azerbaijan, it provides the country representatives with additional channels of communication, allows people to be connected and it facilitates the development of the different industries in the country, as well as giving international exposure for the whole country.”

Traditionally the Azerbaijani industries that would benefit from an enhanced climate of business event activity in Baku and other main cities across the country have been the mainstays of those associated with oil and gas. More than two-thirds of the country is rich in these resources, as well as agriculture, with more than half of the country’s surface area given over to this.

“Oil and gas production plays a major role in the economy of Azerbaijan, but as the country is endowed with lots of mineral deposits the mining industry has also led to the growth of lots of industries and the creation of numerous employment opportunities within the country,” says Sevda Aliyeva.

“Agriculture is also a core industry to Azerbaijan’s economy, and of course, the development of the tourism industry has been among the top priorities for the country and its government representatives.

“Whether these industries are significant drivers also for conferences and events, then it is a ’yes’. At the initial stage as a Convention Bureau, we tried to focus and bring business events that are related to the industries as mentioned earlier. By then, we decided to start with the sectors that are already developed.”

Beyond these traditional developed industries, the country is today rapidly expanding into the sectors of science, technology and aerospace. Areas for which sustained political support alongside buy-in from the country’s leading institutions connected to these fields will be essential to help magnify and promote the country’s future business event landscape.

“Our politicians realise that hosting international business events are also associated with many different advantages for the country. Being such a driving force for the development of the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau activities and showing the willingness to support all kinds of initiatives once it comes to hosting business events proves it.

“Since the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau started its activities in the field of raising awareness of the business events industry in the country, the procedures and steps that should be undertaken in bringing events to the country, the overall understanding among hospitals and universities has been raised significantly.”

“A part of our daily job is to meet people and explain to them what the whole industry is about. It raises awareness and understanding in general.

“Following the political commitment and focus of the country to develop the business events industry in Azerbaijan, both the science and economic sides of Azerbaijan have started to show interest towards finding their internationally-based counterparts to build international relations, connections and as a result host the community representative in their home town.”

The home town hosting of international community representatives will often mean serving up a genuine surprise to first-time visitors to Azerbaijan and in particular to Baku. As a city that is still somewhat off-radar for many people, it is an authentic smorgasbord of cultures, styles and experiences in a beautiful natural setting on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Radiating out from its UNESCO World Heritage old town, the city melds the ancient with the modern and very often with unexpected elegance and grace.

Added to this is a cuisine that, while also still off-radar to many people, is exceptionally good and reflects the country’s diverse influences and agricultural produce, particularly so as it is often accompanied by one of the country’s outstanding (and equally unknown) wines. Added to all this is that it can all be experienced in the company of genuinely warm and welcoming hosts who are ready for the influx of guests that will undoubtedly come Azerbaijan’s way once word of what the country can offer its visitors properly gets out.

Complementing all of the above and specifically for the business events industry is an infrastructure that, in terms of both quality and value that it can provide, will once more be of equally overwhelming surprise to first-time visitors.

Arriving in Baku means experiencing the Skytrax five-star rated Heydar Aliyev International Airport, built-in 2014 and able to accommodate up to six million passengers annually. Staying in the city unveils an array of five-star international brand hotels to choose from, many with cutting edge meeting facilities in-house.

For larger-scale meetings, there is then the futuristic and state-of-the-art Baku Convention Centre, the largest venue the Caucasus and a building of international standing. Completed in 2015 and located near to the city centre and with seventeen conference halls accommodating up to 2,500 people as well as a large hall for up to 3,500 delegates, the centre is more than suitable for any scale of event.

This is further enhanced by the neighbouring Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Centre that is the most striking modern building in all of Baku and already established as a city icon. Completed in 2012, the centre houses a capacious conference hall, a gallery hall and a museum, with spacious internal communal areas and outdoor areas that can be combined and secured together with those around the Baku Convention Centre for international-scale events.

Yet with such reliable attributes in place to easily deliver high profile business events, as a nascent destination there are also a number of challenges that Azerbaijan must be ready to address, none less so than increasing the awareness of just what and where the country is and being prepared to educate the global business event fraternity on the full spectrum of what it is able to offer as a premium meetings destination.

“The biggest challenge is a lack of awareness about Azerbaijan. For some reason people still aren’t aware of what the destination is about and is ready to offer,” says Sevda Aliyeva. “This, unfortunately, brings us to a second challenge and the perception of Azerbaijan, which does not meet the reality.

“A third challenge is that despite having an extremely developed business events infrastructure in Azerbaijan, the skills and knowledge are still in the phase of development. We are still in a learning curve of how to really play internationally and what it means globally for business events in the country.”

While Azerbaijan has undoubtedly built up the hardware it needs to deliver well on major international events, the software of completing the learning curve and having the people skills in place is still a work in progress, but it is one that is progressing well, and that has formal links in place to ensure the curve will flatten out in the near future.

“Over the last fifteen years, as the tourism industry started to develop, the country started to give close attention to the education development in this field,” says Sevda Aliyeva.

“There was, of course, a need for professionals, as we all know that the right and properly educated people are crucial for stable development. Therefore, we currently have three educational institutions where the education system is developing according to the industry needs. These are the Azerbaijan Tourism and Management University (ATMU), the Baku Tourism Vocational School (BTVS), and the Mingachevir Tourism College (MTC).

“As we are extremely interested in the development of educational institutions based on international standards, ATMU has also been cooperating with IMC Krems Applied Sciences University of Austria for a Double Degree diploma programme for more than eleven years. As a result, mostly in all tourism-related structures and institutions, a big share of human resources are people with a tourism background.”

Alongside awareness and education, one further significant challenge that Azerbaijan will have to tackle in coming years is that of event sustainability, an increasingly important issue across all of the developed world and for which the business event industry is expected to take a leading role.

“When it comes to sustainability, countries such as Azerbaijan are developing countries, and due to this development phase, they are developing their future accordingly and considering their natural resources.

“I am talking about Azerbaijan as a case, but we understand the importance in terms of economic, social and of course, environmental sustainability. However, if we are talking about green meetings, for example, we still need some time to get to this point.”

Getting to the point in every sense would appear to be something of a mantra for the Azerbaijan Convention Bureau. To make sure they do this, every opportunity is taken to engage in networking, information share and the dissemination of precisely what the destination has to offer for specific groups and targeted business events.

“I’m extremely active when it comes to networking, and I’m trying to use every opportunity to meet people, talking to them, sharing my knowledge and also learning from them. The stronger we are in remaining, keeping and enlarging existing networks from totally different people, industries and countries, the more successful we become.

“I use different platforms, whether it’s any government, scientific, cultural or even corporate event I’m invited to. The platforms that are arranged by tourism authorities of Azerbaijan Convention Bureau are especially important, because I always use this chance to announce that the business events industry is beyond tourism.”

As Azerbaijan embarks on its journey to get beyond tourism and into the business events sector, it does so at a time that the country has been getting beyond its national boundaries and into other previously untapped realms.

In 2013 Azercosmos launched its first satellite, Azerspace-1, into space and joined the family of advanced nations aiming to have their space industry. The fires that have fuelled the Zoroastrian peoples of Azerbaijan to enter the space race will undoubtedly help propel their ambitions and enthusiasm in the business event industry too.

“I’m focused on putting Azerbaijan on the global map as a premium business event destination. To achieve my goal, I will undertake to overcome all the barriers and challenges we face,” says Sevda Aliyeva. “What is even more important is that we know exactly where we are currently and where we would like to be in the nearest future, so only time is needed to put everything on the proper track.”