Exhibitions have become an integral part of Azerbaijan’s economic activities. Every year, more than 20 exhibitions take place in Baku and act as a litmus paper for the state of certain industries. Trade and industry exhibitions serve as a reliable guide to the business world and are the most effective tool for finding new clients and markets, widening sales geographies, establishing international partnerships, and increasing the flow of investments. They are a great opportunity to maintain relationships with partners and a target audience. In 2017, the Caspian region’s leading exhibition company, Iteca Caspian, and its UK partner ITE Group are planning 17 exhibitions and 1 conference covering many industries. All Iteca Caspian’s exhibitions receive official support from Azerbaijan’s state bodies. Many will also have the support of international unions and industry associations. We spoke to Farid Mammadov, Director of Iteca Caspian, about the prospects for developing Azerbaijan’s exhibition industry.
Question: Organising exhibitions is quite a specific process. How long has the exhibition business existed worldwide? What advantages can businesses enjoy through participating in exhibitions?
Answer: The fair and exhibition business grew alongside the establishment and development of market relations. The most important period in the development of fairs and exhibitions was the first half of the 12th century. During that period, fairs became widespread in France, England and Switzerland. But exhibitions as a tool for promoting companies’ products and services developed rapidly in the 19th century when global exhibitions were launched. The first one was held in London in 1851, and the famous Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.
Nowadays, exhibitions are divided into specific areas. For example, exhibitions such as Expo in Milan 2015, which involve countries’ national pavilions, are now viewed more as socio-political events, whereas companies aiming to use exhibitions for closing contracts, finding partners, etc. often prefer specialised exhibitions.
Q.: How has 2016 been for the company?
A.: Quite positive. In 2016, we held 17 trade exhibitions featuring a total of 1,454 exhibiting companies from more than 60 countries, and attracted more than 45,000 visitors. Local companies made up 40% of the total exhibition space. All Iteca Caspian’s events were supported by government bodies. Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, visited a number of exhibitions including AITF, WorldFood Azerbaijan, Caspian Oil and Gas, and Bakutel, and sent welcome letters to exhibitors for a number of other exhibitions. The exhibitions were also attended by various other relevant industry ministers such as Robin Dunnigan, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy in the Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources; Baronessa Emma Nikolson, the United Kingdom Prime Minister’s special trade envoy to Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkmenistan; Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); Valeriy Shevchuk, Deputy Minister of the Healthcare of the Republic of Belarus; Jin Shubo, Deputy Minister of Industry and Information Technology of China; Mahmoud Vaezi, Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology; Sergey Popkov, Belarussian Minister of Communications and Information; Nurudin Mukhitdinov, Secretary General of Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC); Vitalie Cholak, Moldovan Deputy Minister of Information Technology and Communications; Ahmet Arslan, Turkish Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications; Alan Ajibayev, Kazakh Deputy Minister of Information and Communication; Bakit Sharshembiyev, Kyrgyz Chairman of the State Committee for Information Technology and Communications; and Ramil Hasanov, Secretary General, Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States (CCTSS).
We actively cooperate with various chambers of commerce, embassies, cultural centres, international organisations and communities, business clubs from different countries, different publishers, television and other media in order to attract participants and visitors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them personally and on the behalf of Iteca Caspian for their cooperation with our exhibitions. And I would like to cordially thank Azeri Observer magazine for providing media support in 2016.
The success of 2016’s exhibitions is largely thanks to the role of our partners and sponsors. This year’s sponsors included SOCAR, BP, Gazakh Cement Plant, NB Group, Eurodesign, Azerfon, Bos Shelf, AZFEN J.V., Azeri M-I Drilling, Caspian Drilling Company, Caspian Marine Services, General Electric, Global Energy, GMA Petroleum, RusNeft, Tekfen Construction, Inpex, Caspian Geophysical, Dentons, Nobel Oil Upstream, McDermott, SAP, Schlumberger, SNAM, Statoil, SOCAR Polymer, Petronas, HMS, Total, Caspian Energy, and Dom&Interyer magazine. Iteca Caspian’s partners in 2016 were Safe Life, the security partner, tour operators Premier Tour, official hotels Sheraton Hotel and Qafqaz Point Hotel, official stand builder AzExpoMontage, and Baku Expo Center.
Q.: What exhibitions and conferences are scheduled for 2017?
A.: In 2017, we are planning 17 exhibitions and 1 conference covering many industries. All our exhibitions receive official support from Azerbaijan’s state bodies. A detailed event calendar is available at www.iteca.az. Two exhibitions will be marking their 10th anniversaries: AquaTherm Baku, the International Exhibition for Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning, Water Supply, Sanitary Ware, Environmental Technology, Swimming Pool and Renewable Energies; and Securika Caspian, the Caspian International Protection, Security and Rescue Exhibition. BakuBuild will be rebranded as WorldBuild Baku. The Baku building exhibition is part of ITE’s Build & Interiors portfolio, the largest portfolio of building exhibitions in the world. The rebranding process is in line with changes to all ITE Group’s building exhibitions. The changes will create a cohesive image for the exhibitions in line with the standards of the organisation, the scale of the exhibitions, and the products presented.
Applications to exhibit in 2017 are now being accepted. A number of leading companies have already confirmed their participation including SOCAR, AZAL, Gilan, Safe Life, Norm, NB Group, Henkel, Metak, Azersun Holding, Buta Group, Amoris, Az-Granata, BP, Bos Shelf, Caspian Marine Services, Caspian Drilling Company, Huawei Technologies, Tekfen, Azeri M-I Drilling and others.
Q.: As well as business meetings and talks, the 2016 exhibitions featured other interesting events…
A.: Yes, every exhibition is more than a trade exhibition. For example, during the Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan, AITF was a real festival of world cultures. Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Montenegro, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and Ukraine, as well as newcomers Belarus, presented eye-catching stands with their national colours. The Stavropol Region (under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Stavropol Region), Catalonia (Spain) and Jurmala (Latvia) held separate regional stands.
For AITF’s 15th anniversary, we prepared a special programme of additional events. The programme’s main feature was a joint project with the Administration of the Icherisheher State Historical-Architectural Reserve under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan. During the exhibition, the Icherisheher Centre of Traditional Arts’ stand in the exhibition centre lobby featured four types of decorative arts and crafts – ceramics, batik, jewellery, and woodwork. Visitors got the opportunity to watch these national arts being created.
For the 15th anniversary of TransCaspian, the Caspian International Transport, Transit and Logistics Exhibition, a special programme of additional events took place. On the 10th of May, the Central Botanical Garden hosted an event dedicated to the birthday of National Leader Heydar Aliyev – participants of the TransCaspian exhibition built a pergola in the Central Botanical Gardens to provide a resting spot.
On the first day of the exhibition, we awarded student Zulfugar Sadikhov a prize for gaining the highest score in the admissions exam for the Transportation and Transport Engineering Management course at the Azerbaijan Technical University. Iteca Caspian therefore continues the tradition of encouraging students to enrol in the country’s distinguished universities.
Iteca Caspian has always supported the development of hand-craftsmanship. Visitors at this year’s event could view an exhibition of handworks by Rovshan Ansari in Baku Expo Center’s lobby. The exhibition included models of ships, trains and aircraft of different classes, ages and origins.
Iteca Caspian continues to support art and traditional craftsmanship in Azerbaijan by presenting a display of Azerbaijani national “kelagai” headscarves and a display of pictures from the charity Damla at Caspian Oil&Gas. BakuBuild coincided with the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society charity dinner and auction at the Four Seasons hotel, where we were one of the sponsors.
At this year’s Bakutel telecommunications exhibition and conference, a Game Zone was introduced where visitors could experience virtual reality using a special headset, as well as create a unique item or object using 3D printing pen technology handles. In addition, for the first time in Azerbaijan, visitors got the opportunity to participate in a Robot Battle with mini-robots, and communicate with an Intelligent Robot.
Q.: It is well known to the organisers of exhibitions and conferences that if visitors do not come to the exhibition, the project could be closed. How many visitors did the exhibitions attract in 2016?
A.: We are proud to say that over 50,000 visitors attended our exhibitions in 2016. Audits by UFI show that thousands of visitors attended some exhibitions such as Worldfood Azerbaijan and BakuBuild and 93% of them were industry specialists. This is a very great result. We have a fully coordinated team in the marketing department working on attracting a target audience of visitors. On top of traditional marketing, we’ve also been doing promotional campaigns on social media for some time now. For international visitors, we also provide interesting facts about Azerbaijan to enable them to discover our traditions and culture, to underline the importance of Azerbaijan’s ties with the international community, and to show that Baku is a welcoming and easy city for doing business.
Incidentally, this is also reflected in the development of business tourism. For any country, international trade exhibitions play an important role in the development of tourism. Many international visitors combine business with pleasure and want to relax and travel during their short stay in the country. The most important thing is that for many international guests participating in an exhibition, it is actually their first visit to Azerbaijan. Baku Expo Center, where we host our exhibitions, meets all the modern requirements and contributes to the positioning of Baku as a contemporary business centre with developed infrastructure and a bright future.
Q.: What advice would you give exhibitors and visitors?
A.: Trade and industry exhibitions are a reliable guide to the business world and are the most effective tool for finding new clients and markets, widening sales geographies, establishing international partnerships, and increasing the flow of investments. They are a great opportunity to maintain relationships with partners and a target audience. Every exhibition serves as a meeting place for a whole industry. I wouldn’t say that you only need to participate in exhibitions; each marketing tool has its own advantages. But exhibitions are an irreplaceable marketing tool and ignoring exhibitions is not a risk companies should take. In short, I would say that if a company wants to be successful in its market it should participate in exhibitions. Attending more business events in 2017 is the best way to improve communication in the business world.