Expo 2030 can cap Saudi Arabia’s decade of transformation
Saudi Arabia last month revealed that it had decided to bid to host Expo 2030. In a letter from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Bureau International des Expositions, the Kingdom proposed to host the event in Riyadh from Oct. 1, 2030, to April 1, 2031, under the theme of “a new era for change.”
The crown prince’s letter to BIE Secretary-General Dimitri Kerkentzes, a summary of which was published in official media on Oct. 29, recognized that hosting the exposition would pose a significant challenge, but that Saudi Arabia is capable of organizing an “international and historic” version of this event at an unprecedented level of competence and innovation, promoting mutual understanding and intercultural exchanges.
Saudi Arabia is a natural choice for hosting this global trade fair, as it is the largest economy in the region, a G20 member, a leading energy producer and exporter, and located at an optimal strategic location, at the junction between Africa, Asia and Europe, where trade routes and cultural exchanges have been a way of life for millennia.
As the spiritual center for the world’s 2 billion Muslims and home to Islam’s most sacred sites, Saudi Arabia also has hundreds of years of experience in managing international events and large crowds. The annual Hajj pilgrimage offers both spiritual and worldly benefits. In Islam, trade is encouraged and is not seen as antithetical to spirituality.
By 2030, Saudi Arabia will likely be a new place. It expects to advance its gross domestic product ranking to become one of the 15 largest economies in the world. Currently, it is ranked by the UN as the 18th-largest economy, while the International Monetary Fund places it 19th and the World Bank 20th. The consulting company PwC expects the Saudi economy to grow to $2.8 trillion in purchasing power parity by 2030, which would make it the world’s 13th-largest economy at that time, according to the company’s rankings.
The crown prince’s letter cited challenges related to climate change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, social justice and pandemics, all of which require international collaboration to search for opportunities and use the best talents and capabilities to face those challenges.
The year 2030 coincides with when Saudi Arabia hopes to celebrate the fulfillment of its Vision 2030 and, as such, will give Expo participants a front-row seat to the celebrations marking the Kingdom’s unprecedented transformation, such as in reducing its reliance on oil and its economic diversification. By then, it also hopes to have upgraded its public education and health systems, physical and digital infrastructure, and cultural, entertainment and tourism facilities.
The Royal Commission for Riyadh City, headed by the crown prince himself, is expected to lead Saudi Arabia’s quest to secure the hosting of the event. Four other countries — Italy, Russia, South Korea and Ukraine — have submitted requests to host Expo 2030, but Saudi Arabia is believed to be favorite to win the honor.
The organization of trade fairs goes back thousands of years all around the world. On the Arabian Peninsula, inter-regional fairs date back to at least the 5th century. By the end of the 6th century, they had become widely celebrated as both commercial and cultural events. To facilitate participation, tribes agreed to an annual period of peace of four months, during which fighting of any kind was prohibited.
There is no consensus on where the modern expos began — in Prague, Paris, London or elsewhere. But the 1851 London fair, known as the Great Exhibition, is considered by many as the first fully fledged expo. It lasted nearly six months, had the participation of 25 countries and was visited by 6 million people.
Participants would be given a front-row seat to the celebrations marking the Kingdom’s fulfillment of Vision 2030.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Since then, world expos have been organized regularly, mostly every five years, with smaller events in between. The ongoing Expo 2020 has been held in Dubai under the theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” since the beginning of October. Saudi Arabia has built the second-largest pavilion there, second only to the hosts’. The UAE has expressed strong support for Saudi Arabia’s bid for Expo 2030. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, tweeted on the day Saudi Arabia announced its bid that the UAE fully supported it. He added that all the experience and knowledge the UAE acquired during its seven years of preparations for Expo 2020 will be made fully available to the Kingdom, “whose success is a win for the entire region.”
Modern expos are expensive affairs, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Although they occasionally turn profits, the cost is justified by the other benefits they provide for the organizing country. They provide useful exposure, offering the hosts bragging rights and an opportunity to showcase their most important achievements and innovations. In 1889, for example, France organized an expo around the Eiffel Tower, just months after its construction was completed.
Expos attract businesses from around the globe to exhibit their most important products and inventions, establish potentially beneficial partnerships, and provide connections to expand their markets.
Visitors are a primary audience at expos and form an important part of their appeal, offering both cultural and economic benefits. Expo 2010, held in Shanghai, China, attracted more than 73 million visitors. While most expos do not muster such a high turnout, they still attract many millions. Host countries can benefit greatly from these visitors’ spending in the local economy and exposure to new products and technologies. Their participation also creates new tourism opportunities for the host country.
The great transformations planned in Saudi Arabia by 2030 will enable the Kingdom to reap significant benefits from organizing Expo 2030. It expects new investment flows of more than $7 trillion by then, from both local and foreign investors. Vision 2030 also expects tremendous growth in local industry, tourism and exports, all of which will lead to useful synergies for the Saudi economy that could last for years afterwards.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1