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Kazakhstan 2012 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: ASTANA EXPO 2017

Feeding into the government's set development targets, Astana is bidding to host a world fair with the goal of promoting alternative energy and the city as a dynamic hub of business and globalization.

A city of unique architecture and waterfront vistas, Astana has set its sights on becoming the 2017 host city for the World Expo, an event that would attract international attention to Kazakhstan while simultaneously introducing the world to this culturally rich country in Central Asia. When President Nazarbayev initiated a bid for Astana to host Expo 2017, six other contenders were competing for the role. With just Liège, Belgium, as the only other official candidate by June 2012, Astana's hopes for bringing the Expo to Kazakhstan have become increasingly rosy. Meanwhile, the government expects the event to stimulate the development of infrastructure in the city and contribute heavily to Kazakhstan's overall economic diversification.

On June 16, 2011, Kazakhstani officials formally presented the country's bid at the 149th session of the International Expositions Bureau (BIE) General Assembly in Paris. The city's theme, “Future Energy," highlights Kazakshtan's goals to raise awareness of worldwide alternative energy resources and benefits. The slogan conveys a strong message to the international community as it faces climate change and a host of other environmental issues. Confident in the bid, visitors to Expo 2017 Astana's official website have voted 73% in favor of the theme as a vital topic for discussion, and an additional 12% of those surveyed generally agree with Astana's choice to focus on energy, should it have the honor of staging this large-scale event. According to the government's website, “the theme will highlight the wide problem of energy conservation and the promotion of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, energy, marine resources, ocean, and geothermal waters, which are of increasing importance for humanity."In addition, SMEs in the hospitality, tourism, and construction sectors will see an increase in investments and spending from both local and foreign sources. The government has also expressed its intentions to foster job creation and cultural exchange throughout the event and beyond, if the bidding proceeds as expected.

To further solidify Astana's bid, city and government officials are participating in Expo 2012, which is currently being held in Yeosu, South Korea. Over 150 member countries of the BIE will see Kazakhstan's 774-sqm exhibition space at this year's show, in which Kazakhstan will boost its reputation as an innovative country that is leading trends and developments in the energy sphere. Moreover, Kazakhstan's presentation in South Korea will give the country an opportunity to showcase Astana as a city capable of organizing and financing an event of a similar magnitude. The planned area for Expo 2017 is a 113-hectare area located conveniently in downtown Astana.

Skeptics of the Astana bid worry that the city does not have the infrastructure or means to build a world-class national pavilion past Expo hosts have become famous for, but this argument is largely unfounded. In an interview, Astana's Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov assured onlookers that the city is up to the challenge, and has enjoyed a construction boom as a result of previous international events in the city, such as the Asian Winter Games in February 2011 and the OSCE summit in 2010.

Although the income generated for the country through the exhibition will be difficult to measure, recent Expo host cities have estimated upward of €350 million in revenues spurred by the event, with visitors from around the globe coming to participate in a world fair tradition that has existed since the first exhibition of 1844 in Paris.

Kazakhstan has been a member of the BIE since 1997, and is currently participating in its fourth world fair event, having attended the Expo in Aichi, Zaragoza, and Shanghai in recent years. Its past pavilions featured the themes Water and Sustainable Development, Wisdom of Nature, and Astana: the Heart of Eurasia. Each pavilion drew crowds of more than 370,000 people on a daily basis. During Expo 2012, Kazakhstani officials expect to see crowds of more than 400,000 during the 93 days of the event. With a growing number of visitors interested in what Kazakhstan has to offer, it is with great optimism that the country has launched a 2017 bid. Astana's innovative theme and scenic cityscape are bound to win the hearts of the BIE when the decision is made in December 2012.