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Countdown to World Expo 2030 bid results: What will it mean for Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi capital competes with two other candidates for hosting World Expo 2030 - Busan in Korea and Rome in Italy – with the winning bid to be revealed on November 28

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It is just days away until Saudi Arabia will find out if it has secured the winning bid to host World Expo.

The Kingdom has set its sights on hosting the World Expo in Riyadh from October 1, 2030, to March 31, 2031, centered around the theme ‘The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.’

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The Saudi capital competes with two other candidates for hosting the exhibition – Busan in Korea and Rome in Italy.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives to participate in the Kingdom's official reception for Riyadh's candidacy to host Expo 2030, in Paris, France, June 19, 2023. (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives to participate in the Kingdom's official reception for Riyadh's candidacy to host Expo 2030, in Paris, France, June 19, 2023. (Reuters)

If it wins the bid, it will mark the first time that Saudi Arabia will be hosting the world fair, becoming only the second GCC country to stage the international exhibition after Dubai’s hosting of Expo 2020 in 2021-2022. It was the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region.

The host country for the 2030 showpiece will be elected by the Member States of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) during the Organization’s 173rd General Assembly on November 28.

World Expos have been held for 170 years, since London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, and have since showcased innovations such as the telephone and microwave.

Analysts say if Saudi Arabia wins the bid, it will spell untold tourism, business, and innovation prospects for the Kingdom.

‘Winning will revolutionize the Kingdom’

Ramzi Darwish, head of Savills in Saudi Arabia, told Al Arabiya English that Riyadh’s bid to host World Expo 2030 is generating global anticipation.

“Aligned with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to diversify its economy, moving away from oil dependency to sectors like tourism, entertainment, and finance. Giga projects, such as futuristic cities and infrastructure developments like the Riyadh Metro reflect the nation’s commitment to transformation. And winning the hosting rights of Expo aligns with showcasing Saudi Arabia’s progress globally and sets the foundation for Vision 2040.The Kingdom’s GDP growth, driven by non-oil sectors, earned it the highest growth rate among G20 countries in 2022 and 2023. This, coupled with the Expo bid, positions Saudi Arabia as a regional and international hub for commerce, culture, innovation, and investment,” Darwish said.

“If Riyadh’s Expo bid is successful, along with a unified GCC tourist visa, it will signal a shift in global economy. The $7.8 billion Expo budget and a $1 trillion commitment to investments in energy, transportation, logistics, clean energy, and technology further demonstrate Riyadh’s determination,” he added.

“The Expo bid not only enhances Saudi Arabia’s international standing, but also propels Riyadh into becoming one of the world’s top ten largest city economies. The transformative momentum, driven by innovative and eco-friendly initiatives, promises economic growth, job opportunities, and increased demand in the property market, shaping a dynamic future for Saudi Arabia,” Darwish further observed.

‘An extraordinary opportunity’

Mansoor Ahmed, executive director for the Middle Estate & Africa (MEA) region at Colliers Research & Advisory firm, told Al Arabia English “Saudi Arabia stands at the edge of an extraordinary opportunity as it prepares to host Expo 2030”, should it secure the winning bid.

“This global event promises not just an opportunity to showcase innovation and culture, but also significant economic prospects that can accelerate the transformative path for the Kingdom,” said Ahmed, who had worked with Expo2020 Dubai.

“Hosting the Expo necessitates substantial infrastructure enhancements and investment in transportation, accommodation, exhibition centers. Moreover, public amenities will create job opportunities and bolster the country’s construction sector,” he explained. “These developments will leave a lasting legacy, improving connectivity and accessibility long after the Expo concludes.”

Hosting the Expo will also boost tourism and destination development, said Ahmed.

“The Expo is a magnet for international visitors. The influx of tourists and business travelers will drive growth in the hospitality sector, leading to increased demand for hotels, restaurants, and various tourism-related services. This surge in tourism will not only generate revenue during the Expo, but also stimulate long-term growth in the hospitality industry.”

Ahmed said the Expo also provides a global platform for businesses to showcase their products and services. This exposure can catalyze foreign direct investment (FDI) and encourage international partnerships. “The country’s business landscape is likely to witness growth in trade agreements and collaborations, contributing to economic diversification and expansion,” he added.
As the Expo’s theme revolves around innovation, Ahmed said it presents an ideal platform to highlight Saudi Arabia’s advancements in technology and research.

“Hosting the event can attract leading innovators, fostering knowledge exchange and collaborations. This can drive local research and development, strengthening KSA’s position as a hub for innovation in the region. The preparations for the Expo and its execution will also create a multitude of job opportunities across various sectors. From construction and hospitality to event management and services, the event’s organization will generate employment for Saudi nationals and expatriates alike, contributing to the country’s human capital development.”

Hosting the Expo also gives the Kingdom a major platform to showcase its culture, heritage, and achievements before a global audience.

“This cultural exchange can help shape perceptions, boost tourism, and strengthen diplomatic relations, amplifying the country’s soft power on the world stage,” Ahmed observed.

“Saudi Arabia’s successful bid to host the Expo signifies more than just a global event — it’s a catalyst for economic transformation. It presents an avenue for sustainable growth, fostering innovation, diversification, and international collaboration. As the Kingdom prepares to welcome the world, the legacy of this event has the potential to shape the nation’s economy for generations to come.”

‘The anticipation is palpable’

James Elliot-Square, regional business development manager at PRO Partner Group, described the World Expo, a global mega-event, as a celebration of international human ingenuity, innovation, and cooperation.

“These expos bring together countries from around the world to showcase their achievements in science, technology, culture, art, and industry. The event, organised every five years, provides a unique platform for participating nations to present their culture, technologies, and society to a diverse global audience,” he told Al Arabiya English. “The World Expo encourages collaboration, dialogue, the exchange of ideas, and the creation of innovative solutions to shared challenges. Each showcasing the interconnectedness of nations and the pursuit of a better future for all.”

“As Riyadh and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia eagerly awaits the host nomination for World Expo 2030, the anticipation is palpable. In a week, the allocation will be decided, and the implications for the Kingdom are substantial.”

Hosting the World Expo is advantageous, and so countries from around the globe are vying for the opportunity to showcase their achievements and contribute to global collaboration.

Elliot-Square saud Saudi Arabia, with its strategic location, culture, history, and ambitious Vision 2030 agenda, stands as a strong contender to be awarded the host spot.

“The Kingdom has invested significantly in infrastructure, technology, and sustainable development, aligning itself with the Expo's theme of encouraging innovation for a better future. However, predicting the outcome of such a process is challenging, and the final decision will depend on various factors.”

“Succeeding in winning the bid to host World Expo 2030 would be transformative for Saudi Arabia. It would be a testament to the Kingdom's global standing as well as an acknowledgment of its commitment to progress and global collaboration. Hosting such a prestigious event in Riyadh would undoubtedly elevate the city's status as a global hub for business, culture, and innovation. It would also provide a platform for Saudi Arabia to showcase its cultural heritage, technological advancements, and economic reforms to a diverse international audience.”

Saudi Arabia’s bid

In July, Saudi Arabia unveiled a first look at the proposed Riyadh Expo 2030 site. The proposed site will cover about seven square kilometers of area and feature a ‘Loop of the World’ avenue connecting pavilions from more than 220 countries.

In a new promotional video on Twitter, titled ‘Riyadh is ready,’ Saudi Arabia this summer revealed a first look at what visitors to Expo 2030 can expect.

The 39-second clip showed a city-wide view of Riyadh, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s transformational journey to its modern-day metropolis. It also sheds light on Saudi Arabia’s focus on sustainability, which will be a key theme of Expo 2030.

Saudi Arabia aims to be the “most connected Expo ever,” with airline partner Riyadh Air connecting visitors from across the globe to the Kingdom and allowing visitors to get from the airport to the Expo site within five minutes, using the Riyadh Metro network.

If the Kingdom wins the bid, Riyadh Expo 2030 will be held near King Salman International Airport, which is currently being developed, making it easily accessible using the Riyadh Metro network, which covers all parts of Riyadh city and connects to one of the three exhibition entrances and a modern road network.

Under the theme ‘Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow,’ the Kingdom in June unveiled its master plan for the world fair during an official reception in Paris held in the presence of 179 BIE member states.

The blueprints for the event are in line with the country’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality and following international standards of sustainability, including urban afforestation, the use of treated water, and the provision of new energy sources.

“Our goal in the Kingdom is to organize the first environment-friendly exhibition that achieves zero carbon emissions,” Expo blueprint team member Nouf Bint Majid al-Muneef said.

“The Riyadh Expo 2030 site will be powered by clean resources that rely on solar energy, and we are developing high standards for resource efficiencies and detailed strategies to enhance biodiversity, eliminate food waste, and ensure green waste management and recycling,” Al-Muneef added.

Architectural wonders

World Expos are synonymous with the most innovative and creative architectural designs, with some of the best talent behind the eye-catching and purpose-built sculptures unveiled at global fairs.

At Dubai’s Expo 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion — the second largest after the UAE’s — a 68 square-meter, curved LED screen greeted visitors as they embarked upon a technology-enabled journey through five ecosystems, hinting at the Kingdom’s natural spaces, beautiful coasts, vast deserts, surrounding seas, and high mountains.

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. (SPA)

If successful with its bid, Riyadh is expected to showcase some of the most spectacular pavilions in Expo history.

The initial plans of the exhibition’s design reflect the ancient urban style, history, culture, and nature of Riyadh city, according to the blueprint members. It also showcases Saudi Arabia’s shared concern with the rest of the world for climate and its ambition to foresee a future full of potential.

With about 226 pavilions, countries will be placed side by side, symbolizing the Kingdom’s important role in facilitating global cooperation.

This will also facilitate visitor journeys and ensure easy movement between pavilions, public squares, cultural and innovation facilities, food services, rest, and waiting areas in a smooth and flexible manner.

“The blueprint will work on developing a version of the Expo that is most flexible when it comes to visitor movements within the site, which will be the most interactive, collaborative, and sustainable ever. We will make sure to provide an exceptional experience to visitors,” Lamia bint Abdulaziz, a member of the blueprint team for Riyadh Expo 2030, told BIE members at the time.

“We will also work on enabling full and balanced participation, with added value for all participating countries and we will provide an unprecedented experience to more than 40 million visitors,” she added.

Moreover, visitors to the exhibition can stroll through fully shaded corridors with designs inspired by Riyadh’s architectural heritage.

Riyadh Expo 2030 will also feature a modern green oasis within one of the tributaries of Wadi As-Sulai, which will pass through the exhibition site.

A landmark will be constructed at the heart of Riyadh Expo 2030, built on 195 columns, representing the countries participating in the exhibition.

Three pavilions, each representing the exhibition’s sub-themes of ‘Prosperity for All,’ ‘Climate Action,’ and ‘A Different Tomorrow,’ will surround the landmark.

The exhibition will also feature the Collaborative Change Corner (C3), an area that will drive innovation and creativity during the seven-year journey leading up to and beyond Riyadh Expo 2030.

C3 aims to showcase how collaboration amongst the brightest minds in scientific, social, and intellectual innovations can accelerate the changes that will shape our future.

Hosting the exhibition will help Saudi Arabia showcase its transformative journey and display its progress and ambitions on a global scale, which will align with the vision of the Saudi leadership, said Darwish.

The non-oil sectors’ contribution to the Kingdom’s GDP has led Saudi economy to achieve unprecedented growth rates recently. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Saudi Arabia achieved the highest growth rate in 2022 and 2023 among the G20 group of countries.

Being the Expo 2030 host will further solidify the country’s position as a regional and international hub for commerce, culture, and innovation, and an opportunity unlike any before to attract more global and regional investment and thrive beyond the oil-reliant economy.

Ensuring that the momentum of its transformation is maintained, Riyadh recently announced it has committed $1 trillion in investments for the next seven years to double in size and achieve the status of a global city by 2030.

These investments will be in energy, transportation, logistics, clean energy, and technology. The country has also embraced a new non-oil-dependent economy by investing in key sectors such as tourism, logistics, manufacturing, and renewable energy.

What happens now?

At the 173rd BIE General Assembly on November 28, following Expo progress reports, each of the three candidates will make final presentations for their Expo projects. Eligible and present Member States of the BIE, represented by government-appointed delegates, will then vote for the World Expo 2030 host country by secret ballot, using electronic voting. Each Member State has one vote.

Saudi Arabia's delegation, led by the CEO of Royal Commission for Riyadh City Fahd al-Rasheed, presented the dossier to the Secretary General of Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) Dimitri Kerkentzes in the French capital Paris, in a bid to host the World Expo 2030. (Twitter)
Saudi Arabia's delegation, led by the CEO of Royal Commission for Riyadh City Fahd al-Rasheed, presented the dossier to the Secretary General of Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) Dimitri Kerkentzes in the French capital Paris, in a bid to host the World Expo 2030. (Twitter)

BIE rules stipulate that in the case of more than two candidates, a candidate must gather two-thirds of the votes cast to be elected outright.

With three countries in the running to host World Expo 2030, if no candidate gathers two-thirds of votes cast in the first round, the third-placed candidate will be eliminated, and the two remaining candidates will immediately move into a second round of voting.

The host country for World Expo 2030 will then be elected by a simple majority.

What is the Expo?

World Expos, officially known as International Registered Exhibitions, are global gatherings of nations addressing present-day universal challenges. These unparalleled global events offer a journey inside a chosen theme through engaging and immersive activities.

Taking place every five years and lasting up to six months, World Expos welcome tens of millions of visitors, allow countries to build extraordinary pavilions, and transform the host city for years to come.

For 170 years, World Expos have shaped the course of human history, showcasing the possibilities of tomorrow and an opportunity for history-making innovations to be unveiled to the planet.

First opening in London in 1851 and quickly spreading to countries across the globe, Expos — also known as World Fairs — have brought far-flung nations together to explore inventions and ideas.

It has consequently been the birthplace of some of humankind’s greatest inventions, with the computer, television, and even tomato ketchup being among the hundreds of thousands of life-changing creations passing through the hallowed halls of World Expos over the years. Other legacies of World Fairs include the Eiffel Tower — the iconic Parisian monument, which was built for the 1889 Expo in France. While being a staple of amusement parks worldwide, the Ferris wheel was also first unveiled at the Chicago Expo in 1893.

Expo 2020 Dubai was the first time the world fair was held in the MENA region. (Supplied)
Expo 2020 Dubai was the first time the world fair was held in the MENA region. (Supplied)

The most recent World Expo, Expo 2020 Dubai, took place under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,’ and received more than 24 million visits.

The next World Expo, Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai, will take place between April 13 and October 13, 2025, under the theme ‘Designing Future Society for Our Lives.’

The legacy of Dubai’s Expo 2020 site

The success of World Expos can be measured by studying Saudi’s Gulf neighbor Dubai. The World Expo, which was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ran from October 2021 to March 2022. The legacy site of the fair — rebranded Expo City Dubai — reopened last year on October 1, marking one year since Expo 2020 Dubai welcomed the world to the emirate.

Residential developments at the site have already gone on the market and the site will eventually feature offices, leisure facilities, food and entertainment venues, sports facilities, and a mall. It will host the upcoming COP28 talks.

Ahmed said the precedence set by Dubai’s Expo exemplifies the transformative influence of hosting such an event.

“Dubai’s Expo City stands today as a blueprint for a forward-thinking, sustainable, innovation-centered urban hub. The resultant flow in residential and corporate investments reflects its legacy.

“Considering Saudi Arabia’s market size, which represents more than three times the population of the UAE, the anticipated economic benefits from hosting the Expo are poised to be even more significant. The Kingdom stands at the precipice of a transformative era, where the Expo’s impact is projected to resonate significantly, amplifying opportunities for growth, investment, and global prominence,” Ahmed further said.

“The forthcoming Expo promises a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s economy and paving the way for an era of progress and prosperity,” he concluded.

Elliot Square added: “The benefits of hosting the World Expo extend beyond the event itself. The influx of visitors, media and businesses would stimulate the local economy in various sectors. The Expo would serve as a catalyst for infrastructure development, leaving modernised facilities, exhibition halls, accommodation, and transportation networks – benefiting the city and its residents continuously. Additionally, the spotlight and exposure gained from hosting a global event of this magnitude can enhance tourism long after the Expo concludes.”

Read more:

‘Riyadh is ready’: Saudi Arabia reveals glimpse of proposed Expo 2030 site

Saudi Arabia unveils master plan for Riyadh Expo 2030

​​​​​​​Saudi Arabia presents vision for Riyadh Expo 2030 at General Assembly of BIE