Competition is heating up for the right to host the 2030 World Expo, a massive event that can generate revenue, jobs and global attention – if everything goes well. Rome, the Saudi capital Riyadh, and South Korea’s second-biggest city Busan presented their bids at a key meeting Tuesday of the Paris-based International Bureau of Exhibitions. A vote among member countries is expected in November.
Amid criticism in the West of its human rights record, Saudi Arabia seems to be putting on the biggest marketing push. It financed a “Riyadh 2030″ exhibit in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower — a monument built for the 1889 World’s Fair — and splashed ads on Paris taxis. Its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is on a weeklong trip to France where he’s meeting with top officials.
Italy’s premier and South Korea’s president, meanwhile, came to Paris in person to push their bids. The Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa also submitted a bid for 2030 before Russia invaded Ukraine last year. With fighting still raging in Ukraine, Odesa’s bid wasn’t part of the official presentation Tuesday.
Arriving at Tuesday’s event, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni expressed confidence. “I believe that Rome’s winning hand…is being able to reconcile tradition and innovation,”′ she said. Rome is pledging to respect the environment and the “idea of cooperating with other nations that we are trying to represent, as well with our foreign policy that is never a ‘hit and run’ policy,‴’ she said, according to a news agency Lapresse.
Tourism accounts for 13% of Italy’s GDP, so it is a big driver of the national economy. The country hosted Expo 2015 in Milan and is gearing up to host the next Vatican Jubilee in 2025, with re-paving and other road construction to make mobility easier in the traffic-clogged Italian capital.
For Saudi Arabia, hosting the expo would boost the crown prince’s push to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dominated economy and attract more foreign investment. The kingdom’s expo plan includes a massive public transit network, a major park and a plan to turn Riyadh into an “open art gallery without walls,” said Fahd al-Rasheed, the CEO of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City.
However, challenges remain, like the potential for crude oil prices to remain low. Also, Prince Mohammed remains notorious abroad for the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence agencies say the prince likely ordered the killing, though the kingdom has denied that.
South Korea is promising a high-tech expo, including the use of AI, 6G, and ’’smart″ airports and seaports. Officials say the event will attract up to 50 million visitors and create 500,000 jobs in Busan, a port city on South Korea’s southeastern coast known for its huge harbour, crowded beaches and scenic mountains and Buddhist temples.
President Yoon Suk Yeol said Busan’s bid isn’t just about economic benefits. “If we host the Expo, that will open a new chapter in our global diplomacy,” he said during a meeting with Koreans residing in France ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
From K-pop supergroup BTS and Netflix’s global megahit “Squid Game” to Samsung smartphones and Hyundai cars, South Korea is now a cultural and economic powerhouse. But the Asian country still cares about the international recognition that major events can bring to the world’s 10th-largest economy.
Ukraine is still holding out hope for Odesa’s bid, which would boost the war-battered economy and send a clear message to Moscow of further international isolation. The port city is a key gateway for Ukrainian trade, and the Expo would allow Ukraine to show that it is capable of organizing large international events while it continues to make its case for EU membership.
While past world fairs introduced such wonders as the light bulb, the X-ray and the Ferris wheel, they also require big investments and can be a big gamble for host cities if they don’t bring in as many visitors as expected for geopolitical or other reasons. Osaka is hosting the next World Expo in 2025.