Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has won the right to host the World Expo in 2030, beating South Korea's port city of Busan, results of the final vote showed on Tuesday.
Members of the Bureau International des Expositions, the World Expo organizing authority, held a vote by secret ballot during a general assembly on Tuesday in Paris, following the final presentations of the bidders' proposals.
Riyadh garnered 119 votes out of the 165 as Busan won 29 votes in the first round of voting by members of the Paris-based BIE. Both Busan and Rome in Italy -- with 17 votes -- were knocked out in the first round. No country eligible for voting abstained from a vote, meaning Riyadh won the right with more than two-thirds of the votes in the first round.
"I feel sorry for not meeting the citizens' expectations. I feel grave responsibility," Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told reporters after the ballot.
"I humbly concede defeat. We will continue to build on diplomatic assets we obtained by engaging with 182 countries," he added, referring to the number of BIE member states.
Kim Yi-tae, professor of tourism and convention marketing at Pusan National University, told reporters that "vote buying" occurred, saying Saudi Arabia promised "astronomical development aid" to developing countries to win the World Expo bid, when asked about the reason behind Busan's loss by a large margin.
The results of the vote disappointed the South Korean delegation, taking into consideration its past diplomatic efforts in support of Busan’s bid since July 2022, when the public- and private-sector promotion bodies were merged together two months after President Yoon Suk Yeol took office.
Government officials and business leaders were estimated to have circled the Earth 495 times altogether from July 2022 through November 2023, with over 80 percent of that travel distance having occurred since February this year.
The delegation was composed of Prime Minister Han, Industry Minister Bang Moon-kyu, Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Oh Yeong-ju and Busan Mayor Park Heong-joon, as well as business and industry delegations led by SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won. They have been in Paris since Sunday.
Busan was bidding to host the World Expo 2030 for the six-month run between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2030, under the theme of "Transforming Our World, Navigating Toward a Better Future." The final presentation for Busan on Tuesday featured former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, honorary ambassador for the World Expo 2030 Busan Rah Seung-yun, as well as Prime Minister Han, Busan Mayor Park and SK Chairman Chey.
World Expo events, held every five years under the auspices of the BIE, used to bring in technological and architectural wonders such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Ferris Wheel in Chicago and the Space Needle in Seattle.
Nowadays, such events are considered a chance for the host city to put itself on the global map, while participating countries race to showcase their achievements.
Busan's World Expo organizing body earlier had estimated that some 34.8 million visitors would have come to visit the port city, generating a total potential revenue of 61 trillion won ($47 billion). Busan also estimated that over 500,000 jobs would have been created.
South Korea has been a member state of the BIE since 1987, but it has yet to host a World Expo. So far, Belgium, France, the US, Haiti, Canada, Japan, Spain, Germany, China, Italy and the United Arab Emirates have hosted the mega event. This excludes the oldest one in the United Kingdom, which took place before the BIE existed.
South Korea has hosted two specialized expos, or smaller events hosted by the BIE. It held the first one in Daejeon in 1993, which reportedly drew over 14 million visitors from 108 countries and 33 international organizations and institutions together during the 93-day event.
In 2012, Korea hosted its second specialized expo in the coastal city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. The 83-day run from May to August attracted some 8.2 million visitors from 105 countries, under the theme of "The Living Ocean and Coast."