Saudi Arabia will host the 2030 World Expo (and incidentally, World Expos are still a thing)

The Saudi kingdom has allocated $7.8B+ to host the global event and (they hope) to soften the nation’s global image.

A bunch of people got together in Paris this week and decided they want to travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2030.

An aerial shot of Riyadh’s skyline.

Very cool. Good for them.

On its own, that doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy. But these weren’t just any people — they were delegates representing 182 countries in the Bureau International des Expositions, which has overseen World Expos since 1928, gathering to select its next host city.

The 2030 nod is huge for the Saudi kingdom, which will now host the international exhibition and the 2034 World Cup.

Both will be key to rebooting the nation’s global image — stained by authoritarianism and human rights concerns — and helping to diversify its economy beyond oil.

It took a heck of a campaign

The Saudis earmarked $7.8B+ to host the 2030 Expo, and the lavish spending has already started, as the BIE’s blessing doesn’t come easy, per Politico:

  • The two other finalists — Busan, South Korea, and Rome, Italy — put on glitzy events, enlisting respective star power like K-pop sensation BTS and the Gladiator himself, Russell Crowe.
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally campaigned hard, pairing his pitch with an aquatic show and a lobster and caviar dinner.
  • Probably not hurting the Saudi pitch either: a cameo from soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (who’s making ~$200m to, in part, help rehab the Saudi image).

But why? Are these Expos worth all of this?

Now on an every-five-years cadence, World Expos may not capture the global imagination the way historic gatherings did — think: the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which debuted the Ferris wheel, or the 1900 Paris Exposition, which attracted 50m+ visitors.

But they’re still packing an economic punch — research conducted as part of South Korea’s bid for the 2030 Expo estimated the event would generate ~$45B and 500k+ jobs over its six-month run.

According to BIE, World Expos are designed to find “solutions to pressing challenges of our time… through engaging and immersive activities,” which does sound kinda fun.

Though, after Rome’s mayor said the Riyadh event would be “grim, oppressive and dark,” we’ll maybe pass on 2030 and visit Osaka’s 2025 Expo instead? We could really go for some okonomiyaki, anyhow.

Topics: International

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