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Bangkok Post - Phuket eager to host Specialised Expo 2028
Phuket eager to host Specialised Expo 2028

Phuket eager to host Specialised Expo 2028

EXPLAINER: The country has learned lessons from previous failed bids with the Bureau International des Expositions

Phuket's bid for the Specialised Expo 2028 is forecast to attract 7 million visitors, generating more than 50 billion baht of economic value. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Phuket's bid for the Specialised Expo 2028 is forecast to attract 7 million visitors, generating more than 50 billion baht of economic value. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

The 172nd general assembly of the Paris-based intergovernmental organisation Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) has scheduled an election for Wednesday that people in Phuket have been planning for since 2020.

More than 120 BIE member states are expected to cast votes for the host country of the Specialised Expo 2028 after Phuket and other four contenders -- Minnesota in the United States, Málaga of Spain, Belgrade of Serbia, and San Carlos de Bariloche of Argentina -- finish their final presentation.

While the Specialised Expo does not have the reputation of the World Expo, for which BIE also holds the rights, for host cities of the Specialised Expo in the past it has upgraded their reputations.

An artist's rendition of what the Specialised Expo in Phuket might look like if developed.

Within a compact period of three months, the Specialised Expo was initiated to respond to a precise challenge facing humanity. The latest edition in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017 drew 3.97 million total visitors.

Phuket forecasts welcoming 7 million visitors, generating income of 50 billion baht, if selected.

Q: FOR WHICH PREVIOUS GLOBAL EVENTS DID THAILAND BID?

The general assembly this week is also meaningful for four countries bidding to host the World Expo 2030.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea is attending the meeting in Paris to support Busan, which faces intense competition from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Rome, Italy and Odesa, Ukraine to host the World Expo. The election for the 2030 event is scheduled for November this year.

Back in 2010, Thailand set an ambitious goal by announcing an official bid for World Expo 2020.

The Democrat-led government assigned the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) to lead the initiative in supporting Ayutthaya as the host city.

The campaign gained strong support from stakeholders for two years, while the country saw a shift in politics after the Pheu Thai Party won a majority of seats and formed a new government in 2011.

The bid met an abrupt end in June 2013 when the BIE executive committee unanimously accepted a recommendation from its inquiry mission team to reject Thailand's bid, just months before the November election.

Despite the potential of the old capital city during a BIE site inspection, the lack of endorsement from the Thai government during the official visit led to the elimination.

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates won the bid, hosting the World Expo in 2020.

While the disqualification shattered the hopes of some locals who wanted Thailand to host one of the world's largest expos, the country has welcomed large events in the past.

Mr Pita believes that organising the Specialised Expo in Phuket will help elevate the local economy, public infrastructure and well-being for locals.

Chiang Mai landed the Horticultural Expo in 2006, dubbed "International Horticultural Exposition Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006", held from Nov 1, 2006 to Jan 1, 2007. The expo is one of four supervised by the BIE.

The Royal Agricultural Research Centre was transformed into the organising site, while the Royal Pavilion or "Ho Kham Luang" became an iconic destination in Chiang Mai that still receives visitors.

The event drew more than 3.8 million visitors, particularly from the domestic market.

Kasikorn Research Center estimated the horticultural event created economic value of around 23 billion baht, of which 65% derived from local tourists and 35% from international visitors.

Q: WHAT LESSONS WERE LEARNED FROM THE WORLD EXPO 2020 BID?

Commitment from the government is the most critical criteria for an Expo host country to guarantee a project's financial, legislative, organisational and diplomatic aspects.

An executive from TCEB who requested anonymity said the credibility of Thailand deteriorated during the World Expo 2020 bid as the government failed to show sincerity in supporting the event.

Before Thailand was officially rejected, BIE reportedly submitted a letter to the Thai embassy in Paris requesting confirmation from the government, but nobody answered the inquiry.

TCEB said it learned a valuable lesson and prepared a plan for Phuket this time to avoid repeating mistakes.

In January 2022, the cabinet approved a budget of 4.18 billion baht for Phuket to host the Specialised Expo, after endorsing the bid since November 2021.

As Thailand faces a political transition following a general election, the Phuket bid is unchanged as a coalition government led by the Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the majority of MP seats, vowed to support the bid.

Prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat, an MFP leader, said during his visit to Phuket earlier this month the caretaker government should be given credit for its endorsement of the expo bid in 2021.

He said he believes the project will elevate the local economy and public infrastructure, improving the well-being of people in Phuket.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a leader of the Pheu Thai Party, posted on her Twitter account that has 101,900 followers that they should cast their vote on a website to show support for the campaign.

For her part, Thai Sang Thai party leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan gave a commitment to the private sector in Phuket last week backing the bid.

The Phuket governor and representatives from the tourism sector are attending the BIE assembly on Wednesday to express their strong cooperation in supporting the Phuket bid.

Q: WHAT OTHER LARGE EVENTS IS THAILAND KEEN ON HOSTING?

Among three of the largest global events -- the World Expo, FIFA World Cup, and Olympic Games -- Thailand is also seeking an opportunity to co-host the FIFA World Cup 2034 through an Asean joint bid.

The First Technical Working Group Meeting for the Preparation of Asean's Joint Bid for FIFA World Cup 2034 saw Thailand take the lead, being held in March earlier this year.

According to Asean, the submission of the joint bid will occur in 2026, including the general requirements, timeline, and the role each member of the bid will play in the 2034 event.

Five nations were selected as the key countries -- Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam -- according to an endorsement from the Asean Football Federation.

For Thailand, the cabinet approved the terms of reference proposed by the technical team since March 2021 to prepare the bidding process.

The cabinet also agreed that further studies are needed during the next stage to estimate cost effectiveness, benefits and the impact of co-hosting the World Cup.

As the process is in the initial stage, with the bid submission slated for 2026, there are many regional observers captivated by Asean's agenda, as the political landscape in each country can change over that period.

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