Thursday, September 29, 2022

World expos, planned and proposed through 2030

by Jim Ogul

Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai

With fewer than 1000 days to go till opening, 130 countries and regions have confirmed participation in Expo 2025, putting it close to its goal of 150. By way of comparison, the past two world’s fairs on this scale were Dubai 2020 (192 participants), and Milan 2015 (145 participants).

Expo 2025 will be a six-month World Expo, taking place April 13-Oct. 13, 2025, in Osaka, in the Kansai region of Japan, with the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” Per regulations established by the Bureau International des Exhibitions (BIE) and its member states, the large-scale World Expos take place every five years and run six months; Specialized Expos, which run three months and are smaller in area, occur between the larger events.

Osaka’s Tsūtenkaku Tower lit up in Expo 2025 colors. Courtesy Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition.

Japan has a distinguished history as an expo host. Expo 1970 Osaka was a successful and celebrated world’s fair for many reasons, including its 40-year attendance record of 64,218,770 visits, which was not exceeded until Expo 2010 Shanghai recorded 73,085,000 visits. Other notable expos followed, including Okinawa 1975, Tsukuba 1995, Aichi 2005, and Osaka again in 1990 – a horticultural exposition which although not a world’s fair is the strictest sense had most of the attributes of one. (Four types of Expos are organized under the auspices of the BIE: World Expos, Specialized Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano.)  

Courtesy Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition

Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai’s mascot now has a name. A screening committee set up by the host organization chose Myaku-Myaku out of 33,197 suggestions submitted from across Japan. Committee members decided on Myaku-Myaku because it can be used globally and evokes a sense of affinity, according to the association.

The organizers announced that a ring-shaped wooden roof with a circumference of two kilometers will be erected using traditional techniques at the 2025 Osaka Kansai Expo. The ring will circle the Expo site allowing visitors a sheltered, pedestrian perimeter to exit along the way to pavilions they want to visit. Visitors will be able to walk along a corridor on the roof which will be 30 meters across. An estimated 20,000 cubic meters of timber will be utilized.

BIE reviews the 2027/28 candidates

Five countries are competing to hold the next Specialized Expo which will occur in the 2027/28-time frame: Argentina (San Carlos de Bariloche), Serbia (Belgrade), Spain (Malaga), Thailand (Phuket) and the United States (Minnesota). At present the BIE is conducting missions to each location to evaluate their respective plans and assess the region’s feasibility as a host, and in July embarked on the first of what will be five survey missions, starting with Phuket, Thailand.

Concept image courtesy Minnesota USA Expo.

Phuket’s proposed theme is ‘Future of life: Living in Harmony, Sharing Prosperity,’ and its goals include boosting tourism and demonstrating recovery from the Covid pandemic. The enquiry process includes attending detailed presentations of the candidature project, visiting the proposed Expo site, and interacting with national and local officials, as well as representatives of the business community and members of civil society. As reported by the BIE, members of the Enquiry Mission were led by the President of the BIE Executive Committee, Alain Berger. The delegation included representatives of BIE Member States as well as BIE Secretary General Dimitri S. Kerkentzes. In Bangkok on 25 and 26 July, members of the mission met with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Anutin Charnvirakul, and the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Vijavat Isarabhakd. In Phuket on 26 July, the delegation was received by Governor Narong Woonciew.

BIE Enquiry Mission meets with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health Anutin Charnvirakul, and the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Vijavat Isarabhakd. Courtesy BIE.

The BIE will continue this project evaluation phase for Specialized Expo 2027/28 with visits to the other four candidate countries – Argentina, Serbia, Spain and the United States – wrapping up in mid-October.

Following the last enquiry mission, the findings will be discussed by the BIE Executive Committee. The Committee decides which candidatures will be retained and thereby eligible for the final vote, which takes place in June 2023 during the BIE 172nd General Assembly of the BIE.

In the U.S., the bid for Minnesota to host in 2027 is significant in that there hasn’t been a world’s fair in this country since Expo 1984 New Orleans. The fact that the U.S. is able to compete to host an expo was made possible by its rejoining the BIE in 2017 after having left the organization in 2001.

Who’s in the running for 2030?

Four countries are officially competing for the opportunity to host the 2030 World Expo. They are Saudi Arabia (Riyadh), South Korea (Busan), Italy (Rome) and Ukraine (Odessa). The four countries have until September 7, 2022 to submit the project in the form of a candidature dossier, after which the BIE will set up enquiry missions.

Russia had also been a candidate with a proposal to host in Moscow but voluntarily withdrew in May 2022, due to mounting negative reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With a war currently raging, Ukraine as expo host has to be a question mark, but a quick end to the conflict would offer a remarkable opportunity to tell a story of resilience and rebuilding.

It is the practice for competing countries to engage in various forms of promotion to gain visibility and support, and delegations will visit BIE members to promote their candidacy and seek their vote in the final election. In my former world’s fair capacity at the State Department, I can recall several such visits.

Fahd Al-Rasheed, CEO of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, announces Saudi Arabia’s bid to host Expo 2030. Courtesy Saudi Press Agency.

Italy should have some momentum on the strength of having hosted a World Expo in 2015 in Milan, which enjoyed success with a theme centered on food. Korea also has a history of hosting expos, with a specialized three-month expo in Yeosu in 2012 and a three-month event in Daejon in 1993. As part of its effort to win the competition to host Expo 2030, South Korea has enlisted BTS, a leading Korean pop group, to serve as ambassadors. At Expo 2020 Dubai, which was the first world’s fair hosted in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia had one of the top-ranked pavilions, and the country is becoming a significant market for entertainment development. Saudi Arabia has made several announcements of individual countries pledging support for its proposed expo in Riyadh.

Myaku-Myaku meets with Japanese media personalities Megumi Hoshino and Yuka Yamashita. Courtesy Japan Association for the 2025 World Exhibition
Jim Ogul
Jim Ogul
Since retiring from the US State Department in 2011 after a 30+ year career in world expos, James Ogul ([email protected]) has remained on the scene in an advisory and consulting role. He writes regularly for InPark Magazine about world’s fairs. See his free online book, Tales From the Expo.

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