Kazakhstan’s Evolving Role in BIE: From Astana’s EXPO 2017 to Riyadh’s 2030 Win

Since its establishment in 1928, international exhibitions organized by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) have been a symbol of industrialization and an open arena for showcasing technical and technological breakthroughs. The 173rd session of the BIE General Assembly took place on Nov.28 in Paris, where the main event was the election to host the international universal exhibition EXPO 2030. Three candidates were in the running – Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh, Italy’s Rome, and South Korea’s Busan. By a majority vote of the BIE delegates, Riyadh was elected as the host of the 2030 exhibition.

EXPO International Exhibition Centre in Astana. Photo credit: Qazexpocongress.

Each candidate offered something unique. 

Riyadh, one of the world’s fastest-growing capital cities and a thriving metropolis, is part of a transformation master plan supported by the Royal Commission. Saudi Arabia submitted a bid to host a 7.2 billion euro World Expo in Riyadh under the theme “An Era of Change: Moving Our Planet into the Future,” promising to create dynamic spaces to catalyze change.

Italy’s candidacy for the World Expo in Rome centered around the theme “People and Territories: Regeneration and Innovation.” The main concept focuses on caring for our planet, especially by the populations of urbanized areas and large cities – megacities.

The Republic of Korea, with its prior experience in hosting similar events, has organized two specialized exhibitions under the auspices of the BIE – the first in Daejeon in 1993, and the second in Yeosu in 2012. Their current application is based on the theme “Transforming Our World, Moving Towards a Better Future.”

However, in this competitive process, only one city could emerge as the winner. Yesterday, everyone in the hall congratulated the Riyadh delegation, which won by a significant margin, gaining 119 votes in the first round. 

Eleven years ago, Kazakhstan also experienced jubilation after it was chosen as the host of EXPO 2017. I remember the extraordinary atmosphere in the BIE hall after the announcement: there were tears of joy from the organizers and feelings of patriotism and pride for the country.

Kazakhstan and EXPO 

The history of Kazakhstan’s participation in the EXPO movement dates back to 1997, when our country became a member of the Bureau International des Expositions. The idea of holding an international exhibition in our country was first proposed at EXPO 2008 in Zaragoza (Spain), which proved to be very successful for Kazakhstan.

Photo credit: The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

The official implementation of the idea began on July 1, 2010, at the General Assembly of the BIE, where the start of the Kazakh application campaign was announced. On Nov. 22, 2012, following a secret vote at the 152nd General Assembly of the BIE, the capital of Kazakhstan, with 103 votes, was chosen over the Belgian city of Liege (44 votes) to host EXPO 2017.

After winning the bid, the exhibition organizers had three main tasks: ensuring the participation of over 100 countries and 10 international organizations, attracting more than 2 million visitors, and hosting the event at a high organizational level.

I can say with full confidence that EXPO 2017 was a resounding success. Some 115 countries and 22 international organizations participated in the event. The exhibition was visited by almost 4 million people, with the total number of visits surpassing 33 million. As expected, 15% of the exhibition guests were foreign tourists from 187 countries. The Secretary-General of the BIE at the time, Vicente Loscertales, was delighted with the results of the Exhibition, noting that during his 25 years with EXPO, the exhibition in Astana was one of the most successful.  

Holding the exhibition made a significant contribution to enhancing the reputation of our country. Such global events give a substantial impetus to the promotion of tourism, economic development, and various important industries. Astana has become an effective platform for showcasing the world’s best developments and trends in future energy.

Our country distinguished itself at the subsequent EXPO 2020 in Dubai. The Kazakhstan pavilion was recognized as the second-best among 192 countries and received a silver award in the main category of “Disclosure of the Theme.”

The next EXPO will be held in 2025 in Osaka, Japan. More than 150 countries have already confirmed their participation. According to the Japanese government, the 2025 World Expo should showcase a new style for the event—a mix of real and virtual—enabling more people to participate.

Cooperation of Kazakhstan with the BIE 

The organization and hosting of EXPO 2017 opened a new chapter in the relationship between Kazakhstan and the BIE. In 2016-2017, Kazakhstan was a member of the BIE Executive Committee, and in 2017-2018, it was elected as a member of the BIE Administrative and Budgetary Committee.

​​​​​​​Murager Sauranbayev delivers remarks about ​​the cooperation of Kazakhstan with the BIE.

In November 2019, at the 166th session of the BIE General Assembly, Kazakhstan was elected for the first time as the chairman of the Information and Communications Committee and vice-president of the General Assembly. The delegates voted unanimously for our country.

Vicente Loscertales, speaking at the 166th BIE General Assembly, praised Kazakhstan’s contributions: “Kazakhstan organized the exhibition, which was a fantastic success. The country has been involved in the work of the Bureau for several years in preparation for the EXPO. And today we have friendship, work, and trust. Moreover, Kazakhstan has excellent experience in hosting the EXPO, which will allow it to work effectively at the head of the Committee. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your country to this role.”

Over the past four years, Kazakhstan has played a pivotal role in leading this committee, introducing new proposals to the BIE and spearheading an expert mission to Rome. This mission assessed the readiness of the application dossier for EXPO 2030.

Today, at the 173rd session of the General Assembly, Kazakhstan further solidified its role within the BIE by being elected as a member of the BIE Rules Committee. Over these years, Kazakhstan has significantly strengthened its position in this international organization, which includes members from 182 countries. This commitment and contribution have established Kazakhstan as a dynamic and influential participant in the global expo movement.

The author is ​​​​​​​Murager Sauranbayev, the former President of the Information and Communication Committee of the BIE.

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