ASTANA – Secretary General of the International Expositions Bureau (BIE) Vicente Loscertales said Astana was making “excellent” progress in preparations for EXPO 2017 during a March 19 press conference in the Kazakh capital’s Central Communications Service. Loscertales was in town for a two-day visit to meet with officials and assess the country’s progress on the multi-year project.
“The management of the expo site is a model for future expos and for future construction projects,” Loscertales said at the press conference, in which First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commissioner of EXPO 2017 Rapil Zhoshybayev and Chairman of the Board of the Astana EXPO 2017 National Company Talgat Yermegiyayev also participated. “I am convinced that we are going to be not only within the schedule that was proposed, but also that we are going to be in certain aspects a little bit ahead of schedule.”
Due to belt-tightening across the board, the budget for the expo has been cut, Yermegiyayev confirmed in response to questions after Loscertales’s remarks. “The National Budget Commission has cut the budget of the exhibition by 10 billion tenge [US$53.8 million], of which 7 billion tenge [US$37.6 million] comes from construction and 3 billion tenge [US$16.1 million] [were earmarked] for public relations and entertainment,” he said. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that the country would enter ‘savings mode’ in February and called for a number of large scale budget cuts, including to EXPO 2017.
However, Loscertales said that participation was on schedule and said he expected participation targets for 2015 to be met. Zhoshybayev noted that 19 countries had confirmed their participation in the event so far and that more were expected to join over the course of the year. With the launch of EXPO 2015 in Milan will come an opportunity for Kazakhstan to drum up interest in its own expo, Loscertales said, saying Kazakhstan’s pavilion would be an important mechanism for promoting the country, the capital and the expo.
Zhoshybayev said the expo would be an engine driving tourism to Kazakhstan, and said the state expects to receive about 5 million visitors to EXPO 2017. He said he had recently met with Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai, who praised Kazakhstan’s tourism potential and is now considering holding a UNWTO event in Astana in 2017. Talks have also been held with ministers of tourism in other countries, migration and immigration reforms are being considered and communication with tour operators in key countries including China, Germany, Russia, the U.K., France, Japan and other countries is open, Zhoshybayev reported.
The expo’s legal framework, which must be approved by the Kazakh government and the BIE, is “advancing,” Loscertales said. “We have made progress toward that and we hope that this framework will be prepared for the end of this year,” he said. He had discussed legal issues with Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Massimov earlier in the day, Loscertales said, commending Massimov for his ongoing support for EXPO 2017.
Loscertales was also given an opportunity to check on the thematic pavilions. He noted that all the project tenders have been won and now it only remains to see detailed plans in a few months’ time. The secretary general said the design of the thematic pavilions also seemed to be advancing well. “The ideas and the way they are developing, I found that very positive and very attractive for the visitors,” Loscertales said of the plans he had seen.
The secretary general counselled maintaining a balance of science and entertainment, and for Kazakhstan to keep “strict control” over the quality of the content and the attractiveness of the presentation, in response to requests for advice. “Expos need to have a serious and interesting theme, but they also need to be entertaining. … My advice now is to keep a good balance between quality of the concept and attractiveness of the presentation,” he said.
During a meeting with Mayor of Astana Adilbek Zhaksybekov before the press conference, the BIE secretary general discussed the city’s plans for new transport infrastructure for the event, including new roads, bus stations, rail way stations, parking areas and a new airport terminal. The mayor also announced plans to build a new 50 megawatt solar power plant, which is scheduled to be put into operation in the first quarter of 2016. Apartments, hotels and entertainment venues are also slated to be built. At the press conference, Loscertales thanked the mayor for his spirit of openness and cooperation on the project.
“Since I arrived, my first impression is of the rapid evolution of the city,” Loscertales said to open the press conference. “The expo site has progressed … in a very efficient and impressive manner.”