Expo bid requires public discussion on likely benefits

opinion February 01, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

Thailand's desire to host the event could have many advantages, but all opinions must be heard before huge sums of money are spent

Ayutthaya is bidding to host the World Expo 2020, in another effort to put the nation in the international limelight. World Expositions are big events that draw a large number of international participants and visitors who come to display and experience state-of-the-art innovations and the latest scientific achievements.

Thailand’s chance to host the event isn’t a certainty because it will be competing with other countries that also want to host the coveted event. But it’s not too early to drum up support from all parties if Thailand wants to succeed in its bid. Early preparation will naturally make the host candidate better equipped to organise such a massive event.
In addition, publicity over the Expo bid will also encourage discussion among Thais about what they expect to achieve from it, if indeed the nation is selected as host. A massive event on this scale cannot be successful without public support and participation. If Ayutthaya succeeds in its bid to host the event, every single Thai will need to be a host and representative of the country in welcoming foreign guests.
The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) Enquiry Mission’s members are in Thailand this week to discuss with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and various organisations Thailand’s ability to host the event. Ayutthaya is competing with at least four other contenders – Dubai in the UAE, Ekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It’s been reported that Turkey has a competitive edge because it previously bid for a World Expo. Brazil is recognised for its ability to organise international events, since it also has the next soccer World Cup and Olympic Games. 
Dubai’s bid has the full support of its private sector. Five of the UAE’s biggest companies have thrown their weight behind the bidding. Dubai Airports, Emirates Airline, Emirates NBD, Etisalat and Jumeirah Group recently signed up to support the country’s effort to host the prestigious global event.
Many nations would like to host a World Expo because it can create enormous opportunities if the host can maximise the potential and publicity. Foreign visitors pour in for the fair’s entire duration, six months, so the economic incentive is massive, even in light of the cost. 
Shanghai, which hosted the World Expo 2010, found the event an “unforgettable experience” for residents, with more than 72 million people visiting. Its success helped affirm Shanghai as a metropolitan city. Expo put Vancouver on the global map in 1986 when it showcased the diversity of Canada.
Thailand plans to propose the theme “Redefining Globalisation: Balanced Life, Sustainable Living” to promote sustainability amid rapid modernisation. Ayutthaya itself is an example of resilience. The historic city has stood the test of time, and the flooding disaster in late 2011 demonstrated its capacity to survive great difficulty.
At any rate, location alone doesn’t guarantee the success of the event. The World Expo requires resources both financial and human, as well as full engagement from all sides. 
The government should start a public discussion to sound out what people want to see from the event. The private sector’s participation should be encouraged to help relieve the cost burden. The government originally expected to spend Bt40 billion to prepare Ayutthaya for Expo. But the private sector can help by providing commitment early on, because it also stands to benefit.
However, it has been reported that preliminary discussion with the BIE reveals that Thailand might not be selected because it lags in some criteria. For instance, there may be a lack of cohesive effort from state agencies on streamlining visa regulations and customs duties.
But even if Thailand loses the bid, the process of applying should provide lessons for the future. Thailand’s claim to be one of the greatest places to live will not be judged on whether we win the bid to host Expo, but whether the country has a liveable environment for citizens and foreign guests alike.