The Azerbaijani capital of Baku, with a population of more than two million, is the largest city in the Caucasus region. While it sits on a bay along the southern edge of a small promontory sticking into this sea, Baku actually is approximately 100 feet below sea level, making its skyscraping skyline (derived from Caspian Sea oil and gas revenues) that much more impressive. The city's economy is further fueled by the presence of the massive Baku International Sea Trade Port, which currently moves millions of tons of goods and oil through the canals of neighboring Russia to the Black and Mediterranean seas and beyond, but is also undergoing a huge renovation and size increase. As a result of all this industry, Baku MICE venues are jumping.
The main portal to Baku is the Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD), which is 12 miles to the northeast of Baku's downtown and has service to New York City on national carrier Azerbaijan Airlines starting in September 2014; all other services target the Middle East and Europe, including Paris and London.
Chief of the MICE venues, Baku Expo Exhibition & Convention Center debuted in 2010 with, suitably, the Caspian Oil & Gas Expo 2010. The center has more than 37,161 square meters of space, including three exhibition halls, a theater and three meeting rooms. It is second in size of all conference centers in or formerly in Soviet countries, the largest one being the Moscow Expo Center.
All those natural resources have brought to Baku a stunning array of international hotel flags. Baku MICE hotels include the 280-room Kempinski Badamdar Baku, which has three meeting rooms, a ballroom for 400 persons and an auditorium for 525; the 248-room Park Inn By Radisson Azerbaijan Baku, which has five meeting rooms and a ballroom able to host up to 300 persons; the 243-room JW Marriott Absheron Baku, which has 13 meeting rooms covering 1,997 square meters; 171-room Four Seasons Baku, which has five meeting rooms, a banquet room for 350 persons and a ballroom for 500; and the 159-room Hyatt Regency Baku, which has 10 meeting rooms and a ballroom for up to 280 persons.
Unique function spots in Baku include the crystal-shaped Baku Crystal Hall, which hosted the 2012 European Song Contest as its debut event and contains 23,000 seats and a patio for more than 16,000; the Baku Jazz Center, the nerve center of a form of home-grown jazz that has grown in popularity around the world and which has a banquet room for events and can arrange dinner-jazz events and packages; the Baku Puppet Theatre (technically known as the Abdulla Shaig Azerbaijan State Puppet Theatre), which has an 210-seat auditorium and is a grand 1908 building originally meant as a cinema; far more modern, the contemporary arts center Yarat, which has gallery and lobby space for events, many of its spaces being able to be transformed to the will of the event organizer; and the National Azerbaijan History Museum, which was founded in 1920 in an 1893 Italian Renaissance-style mansion and has 35 gallery halls, some of which can be rented.
Restaurants with Azerbaijani cuisine that can cater to groups include Avaz, which mixes modern and older design and has private alcoves and rooms; Zeytun, which is on the fourth floor of the Park Bulvar office building above the Caspian Sea; the very stylish Sahil in hues of silver and blue and which also has Latin and Italian fare; its sibling Chinar, which has more traditional design, adds pan-Asian cuisine to its mix, and has a late-evening DJ; and, much more traditional and in several cellar rooms with local touches, Nargiz, which sits on the city's Fountain Square.