It's not quite a World Cup, but Saudi has high hopes for its World Expo, taking place the year the Saudi Vision 2030 is complete.
Saudi Arabia will launch a dedicated visa for its World Expo in 2030, which will facilitate “seamless entry from plane to metro to Expo site,” states the Royal Commission for Riyadh City.
Saudi beat out Italy and South Korea to hold the World Expo and will spend close to $8 billion to turn part of its capital city Riyadh into an events plaza of 6.6 square kilometers – that’s roughly twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
The Middle East region has shown its fondness for visas tied to events before. The FIFA World Cup in Qatar had the Hayya Card, a type of visa specifically for football fans. The Hayya Card is said by GCC officials to have led to strong inter-regional travel, providing the basis for the upcoming GCC unified visa. expected this year or next.
World Expos occur every five years and are likened in scale to the Olympic Games. They can have a substantial impact on host cities, particularly in areas such as tourism, construction, real estate, and investments. The upcoming Expo in Saudi Arabia will mark the second in the Middle East, following the Dubai Expo held in 2021.
In the UAE, its own Expo was predicted to provide a $33 billion boost to UAE’s economy over 20 years, with $6 billion coming directly from spending on hotels and business services during the six months the Expo was running.
World Expos bring together countries to showcase their latest achievements and future ambitions through pavilions. For the Riyadh Expo, 197 countries are planned to take part. For Saudi as the host, it is a chance to showcase the country’s modernization efforts.
The Riyadh Expo 2030 is expecting to have 40 million visitors over its six-month run. This includes domestic, international and repeat visitors.
The event coincides with a key milestone for Saudi Vision 2030 – at which point the oil kingdom hopes to be economically diversified and a major player in global tourism, sports and other modern sectors.
Airlift and Tourism
By the time of the six-month show, the country’s new national carrier – Riyadh Air – should be in full swing. Expected to launch in the middle of 2025, Riyadh Air hopes to fly to more than 100 destinations by the end of the decade. The airline expects to cover all major cities, including those in the Americas, and add $20 billion to the kingdom’s economy.
The country has a tourism target of 150 million travelers by 2030, combining both international and domestic guests to hit that goal. Tourism chiefs are eyeing around 70 million international visits that same year.
Big on Events
In addition to the World Expo, Saudi Arabia – where temperatures can hit 122°F – will host the Asia Winter Games in 2029. The event will happen at a “giga-project” called Trojena, a man-made ski retreat destination in the mountains of the country.
Saudi is also the frontrunner to host the FIFA World Cup in 2034.
In total, $1.3 trillion of projects are pipelined in Saudi right now. Qatar was reported to have dedicated $200 billion to its World Cup, potentially more.
Middle East Travel Roundup
Get the latest news from the Middle East in one easy-to-digest newsletter.
Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch
Photo credit: A render of the Riyadh World Expo 2030 site.