The evergreen essence of Expo(s)

An introduction
1st Apr, 2016

To celebrate the launch of the brand new Headquarters, we have tried to give you, our readers, association planners and executives, some food for thought. Thought out as a series of articles, it will focus, this year, on World Expos. As you will read, the connections between associations and Expos are numerous and varied, starting with a bidding process. But what’s in it exactly for associations? Can you combine your own events with Expos? Could the latter create business opportunities and constitute an open door to new members? And what about the scientific programmes of Expos?

World’s fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions, a tradition that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe and the United Kingdom. The best-known ‘first World Expo’ was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. Since their inception, the character of world expositions has evolved. Three eras can be distinguished: the era of industrialization (1851-1938); the era of cultural exchange (1939-1987); and the era of nation branding. From Expo 1988 in Brisbane onwards, countries started to use world expositions more widely and more strongly as a platform to improve their national images through their pavilions. Apart from cultural and symbolic reasons, organising countries (and the cities and regions hosting them) also utilise the world exposition to brand themselves. For instance, Spain used Expo ‘92 (Seville) and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in the same year to underline its new position as a modern and democratic country and present itself as a prominent member of the European Union and the global community.

A world’s fair, world exposition, or universal exposition (Expo) is a large public exhibition. Having been held since mid-19th century, Expo is the largest cultural, historical and educational Olympiad in the world. These exhibitions vary in character and are held in varying parts of the world.

Since the 1928 Paris Convention Relating to International Exhibitions came into force, the Bureau International des Expositions (ie the International Exhibitions Bureau) has served as the international sanctioning body for world’s fairs. BIE-approved fairs are of three types: Universal, International, and Specialised. They usually last from three weeks to six months. Each World Expo carries a central theme, the guiding principle of which is to be of “universal concern to all of humanity”.

Most recently, the universal expo themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” took place in Milan, Italy from May to October of last year, with 21.5 Million visitors and 148 Official Participants including Countries, International Organisations, Civil Society Organisations and Corporations. The next world’s fair – Expo 2017 – will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, from June to September of next year. The Expo 2017’s official theme is “Future Energy”, and it aims to create a global debate between countries, non-governmental organisations, companies, industry associations and the general public on the crucial question: “How do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO2 emissions?”

The BIE is an intergovernmental organisation created to supervise international exhibitions, with the purpose to oversee the calendar, the bidding, the selection and the organisation of world expositions; and to establish a regulatory framework under which Expo organisers and participants may work best together. Current BIE membership includes 170 countries.

This article was written in collaboration with MCI Special Projects Director Matteo Pederzoli, the Executive Producer and Curator of the Expo Milano 2015 European Union Pavilion Visitor Experience. 

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Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.