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Ayutthaya

World Expo bid under a cloud amid cost doubts

PM's Office says govt reassessing worth of investing in Ayutthaya; 'Bt30 billion needed'

Eleven days after a second inspection, Thailand has lost its patience about knowing if it might win the World Expo 2020. Whether it is being political or not, the government's decision may hurt the Kingdom's image.

The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) Enquiry Mission came to Ayutthaya late last month to inspect the Thai city's potential as a candidate to host the world's largest fair.

But yesterday Prime Minister's Office Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsong-phaisan said the Yingluck government was assessing the worthiness of investing in a bid to stage the World Expo.

A research team from Kasetsart University had earlier estimated that the government, if selected to host the event, may have to spend Bt30 billion to construct new buildings and infrastructure to link to the expo site in Ayutthaya.

A decision has been in the air for some time. But politics is believed to have come into play, as the bid was announced in 2010, during the Abhisit government.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said what the government had done so far was to discredit the country. Thailand was globally well-known and playing a rising role in international platforms. And if the government announced it would not to proceed with the bid, the country would hurt its image on the international stage.

"The bidding game has not moved ahead fully. [The government] can keep going forward to fight in the competition, not drop out on the way,'' he said.

Nine delegates from the BIE Enquiry Mission also talked with Abhisit during their five-day inspection tour from January 28 to February 1 after meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

He said it was clear at least 10 million tourists would attend, and the venue would make Ayutthaya even better known internationally. He called for the government to declare exactly all details of why it has reconsidered backing the bid, especially figures about investment returns.

Yesterday, Thongchai Sridama, acting president of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), a public agency leading the bidding, said it was most likely Thailand would not be considered by the BIE as a qualified candidate to win the bidding.

Dubai seemed to have emerged as the potential winner because the cash-rich nation had spent Bt100 million to organise its bid, as well as building an underground train to better connect with the venue. It also had strong support from China.

He said around Bt30 billion would be needed to build accommodation and infrastructure if Ayutthaya was to host the expo, and BIE expected to make a profit of around Bt62 billion, if all plans and projections went as expected.

Other candidates include Brazil, Turkey and Russia. Thailand was the first country to be inspected. The officials will consider 14 issues identified in Thailand's bidding dossier. One of the key items is the government mechanism for event management and community support.

Thailand is considered weak in some areas, such as a commitment to provide free support to less developed nations exhibiting at the expo. Also, there may be a lack of cohesive effort from state agencies on streamlining visa regulations and custom duties.

There were some irregularities during the visit of the Enquiry Mission to Ayutthaya. The TCEB invited the media to visit the venue, but Thongchai did not appear, claiming illness. On the same day, BIE delegates also cancelled their plan to meet with the media, citing a tight schedule.

However, a TCEB delegate at the event insisted Thailand would move ahead its plan and not drop its expo bid. The government expects to spend Bt40 billion to host the event. It projects a Bt60-billion boost to the economy from it and but feels it would boost the country's tourism profile.


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