After having deposited their official request at the BIE by the intermediary of their governments, the candidates for organising an Exhibition are subject to an enquiry mission. The report of the enquiry mission is presented at the General Assembly, which, by a secret vote (each member-state has one vote) chooses a country to grant a date of organising an Expo.
The Member-States reunited in the General Assembly freely decide to grant or not the organisation of an Expo to a country, based on the feasibility of the project as assessed in the report of the enquiry mission.
An Expo is a world «super» event for any host nation. It is a unique PR opportunity for national governments to showcase their achievements to the world and for economic development and co-operation. An Expo is also an extraordinary opportunity for corporate participants to develop a culture of educated and discerning consumers and a unique occasion for the host nation to extend hospitality to the international community, while acquainting it with the richness of its culture and its contribution to modern civilisation.
Expos have always been regarded as privileged platforms to promote principles, frameworks and products of the modern economies, because of their strong focus on innovation and cooperation. As a result, Expos have been powerful drivers of the local city and national economies from both a quantitative and a qualitative perspective. Many host cities and countries experienced the direct benefits of Expos through increased employment, large infrastructure projects, increased international exchanges and new sources for fiscal revenue. At the same time, the Expo had more intangible but equally powerful impacts on the branding of the city and of the country, and a new international image along the axis of modernization, efficiency, cultural and scientific development.
Expos can achieve this with their unique ability to translate complex and unconventional messages into the multifaceted languages of culture, diplomacy, entertainment, science, technology, architecture, materials, art, etc. which, together, can touch the broadest and most diverse global public.
Expos are engines of change that strongly support the top-down policy efforts of governments. Their transformational power affects societies in both material (architecture, urban planning, transportation) and intangible ways (culture, education). The desire to dream, the freedom to imagine and the inspiration to act have remained a constant characteristic of Expos through the years and contribute to make them catalysts for urban and cultural regeneration.
For the city, Expos are a key part of a strategic plan for urban development and act as catalysts for accelerating infrastructural transformations. The role of Expos as instruments for urban renewal has remained constant throughout the years, although it is amplified today with the focus on quality of life. As the world experiences massive urbanization, much of the global attention is focused on the solutions that can improve existing major cities and enable smaller cities to grow in a sustainable way. The actions that will accompany urban renewal fuelled by Expos will involve, amongst others, the regeneration of certain areas, the overall or partial branding or re-branding and the reconfiguration of the city's operational systems (transports, telecommunication, networks, etc.).
Expos are a new platform that allows for the expression, on an equal footing, of different voices. What is truly remarkable is that, by marrying public diplomacy and cooperation, Expos provide a non-confrontational setting whose breadth of benefits— whether socio-economic, cultural, political, or environmental, and both short-term and long-term—is second to none.
The organiser of an Exhibition is the group in charge of its preparation and of its executive work. It defines, coordinates, and controls all decisions that must be taken during the preparation and the hosting of the Expo.
"Whatever the structure, the Exhibition finds itself under the patronage of a sovereign or of the highest authorities of the state. In the case where the state structure is dominant, the government—generally the Ministry of Commerce and Industry—delegates the direction of the Exhibition to a centralised unit, the Commissariat-General. If, in 1889, it was still possible that the French government go through an intermediary, the designation of a Commissioner-General takes part, since the entry into effect of the Convention of 1928, of the obligations of inviting countries".(Passage of the book Ms. Schroeder-Gudehus and Ms. «Les fastes du Progres – le guide des Expositions Universelles 1851-1992»).
Passage from the "RESOLUTIONS PROPOSED BY THE WORKING GROUP, ADOPTED BY THE 115TH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBY OF JUNE 8, 1994":
"RESOLUTION N°1 – The theme of Exhibitions"
All Exhibitions will have to have a relevant theme that corresponds to the expectations of contemporary society. The theme will be defined in a precise and clear manner and in accordance with the Expo organiser and the BIE.
The theme, while being sufficiently broad to allow all participants to illustrate it, would have to be able to showcase the state of scientific, technological and economic progress in the chosen domain and the challenge that is presented when taking into account human and social aspirations as well as the necessary protection of the environment.
The selection of the theme and the study of its development will have to involve a strong cooperation between the organiser and the BIE as well as a link with the highest global authorities, such as the UN, for the purpose of securing their support.
The BIE is invited to specify the paths as it sees fit to ensure the application of the theme by guidance and assistance to the participants and organisers.
The organising state must schedule meetings that bring together the most renowned experts in the field of the theme, economic and professional organisations as well as international and regional representatives with a link to the theme.
The BIE and the organising state are invited at all times to seek an accord and the support of the highest global authorities in order to guarantee the excellence and success of these meetings.
The organisers have to see to it that these debates and meetings are broadly covered by the media and in particular by establishing a preliminary agreement with relay stations for the mass audience, national and international.
From the time that the candidacy campaign is launched, the goal of participating countries is to communicate and share views, putting forth the different cultural values and natural resources of each country and making available the various innovations for the benefit of all, so that every citizen may develop an international awareness of the need for a sustainability in order to ensure a better future.
If, however, a country seeks to attract attention, it is in the framework of architectural creation that-it will be able to touch the spirit of everyone.
Cultural events are also a very good way to attract the interest and attention of the public to a specific country.
Finally, the respects for other candidates and for regulations, as well the intelligence of the presentations, are the necessary qualities to make a good impression.
Passage from "RESOLUTIONS PROPOSED BY THE WORK GROUP, ADOPTED BY THE 115TH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBY OF JUNE 8, 1994":"RESOLUTION N°2 - The conditions of introduction and of reuse of the site"The organisers, in order to ensure the contributions that Exhibitions must bring to the development and improvement to the quality of life will have to place the primary importance on:- the conditions of introduction of the site and of the infrastructures for access to the environment: the reduction of risks of pollution, the preservation and setting up of greenery and the quality of real estate developments- the reuse of the site and of its infrastructures after the Exhibition.
"Decision to participate (...) – as the BIE proclaims – the Exhibitions have become events of an essentially cultural nature, of a popular and non-elitist character, which is to say that they are directed at the largest public possible. Ultimately it is the overall image of the country that each participant must strive to impress upon the greatest number of visitors, as well as its landscapes, its historic heritage, its youth, its potential for scientific research and technological innovation, its projects and its vision for the future. The Exhibitions are the ideal workshops for an in-depth exchange on projects of a global character, in order to come up with common strategies and to confront the challenges of globalisation".(Passage from the Guide for participants)
One of the most important values of the BIE, which allows it to stand the test of time, is tolerance. This is demonstrated in the Paris Convention, and notably in Article 9, which states that "contracting parties are quite free not to take part in an exhibition which has been registered or recognised." The host country of an Expo is certainly always interested in the largest possible number of participants, but there have never been cases of pressure for a country to participate, nor has there been evidence of hostility towards a host country. A country may not participate in an Expo for financial reasons, political reasons, or simply if the proposed theme does not appear attractive enough.
In any case, this decision is respected in conformity with the rules accepted by 169 states which have signed the Convention.
The BIE member-states and non member-states get along in perfectly at the sties of the Expos.
The only difference that exists between these countries is in the contracts of participation and the conditions of their participation.
The visitors come to an International Exhibition to discover the cultures and innovations from around the world.
Often the visitors mainly come from the host city of the Exhibition, which means that, for them, the Exhibition represents more than a tremendous opportunity and represents just as much a source of great pride to welcome the international community as a source of great pleasure to be able to meet them.
The visitor wants to see the capacity of his country to receive the world and loves to witness the importance of the participating country that had granted their trust to his country.
The visitor is often hungry for knowledge and discoveries, and he likes to understand the international dialogue in the process. The visitor wants to be the actor of his future and evolution, and this comes with knowledge and education, which are the two principal objectives of the Exhibitions.
The public targeted is above all that of the host country of the Exhibition and of the set of neighbouring countries. This target does not mean to be exclusive but realistic, as we cannot count on the visits of people for whom travelling is problematic due to difficulties in financial or transportation means.
However, the organising countries always make available new means of transportation (by air, road, railroads...) to facilitate access to visitors from faraway countries. But the numbers speak for themselves, and the local visitors often represent 80 to 90% of visitors.
In order to ensure a good reuse of the site of the Expos, a resolution was adopted by the General Assembly of the BIE on June 8, 1994:
"The conditions of introduction and reuse of the site"
The organisers, in order to ensure the contributions that Exhibitions must bring to the development and improvement to the quality of life will have to place the primary importance on:
- the conditions of introduction of the site and of the infrastructures for access to the environment: the reduction of risks of pollution, the preservation and setting up of greenery and the quality of real estate developments
- the reuse of the site and of its infrastructures after the Exhibition.
A number of Expo sites have become spaces reserved for research and some pavilions of participants have been transformed into other offices, etc. For more information on the reuse of the Expo sites, please consult the list of liquidator offices of the International Exhibitions, who will suggest contacts to learn more (list available at the BIE).
One of the special features of Expos is that they are all different and BIE has never tried to layout a list of the 'best'. The 1851 Great Exhibition in London stands out in history since it was the first, as does the 1889 Paris Expo, which left the capital with the Eiffel Tower. The 1958 Expo in Brussels marked the beginning of the nuclear age, while the 1962 Expo in Seattle brought in the space age. Since the 1970 Expo in Osaka, new technologies have not been the only focus of the expositions - indeed, we have begun to reflect on the changes in our way of life. Finally, Shanghai 2010 was the first Expo of 'best practices.' Since 1851 we have had more than 60 World and International Expos and each was the best and unique of its kind.
Extract from the article of the Secretary General M. Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales « Advancing Public Diplomacy through World Expos » (2009):
If the origin of Expos coincided with the industrial revolution and an historical period focussed on creation and projection of the identity of nations, it is no surprise that today, in light of the new world dynamics, we are experiencing a renewed and growing interest in World Expos. The make-up of our societies is increasingly shaped by the economic and communication revolution, with nations, and now cities, competing for relevance and attractiveness on the world stage. As nation and city branding become a strategic priority, World Expos provide a powerful tool to support the competitive image of cities and countries.
Today's repositioning of Expos as a special type of public diplomacy platform is based on the awareness that they can no longer be the default presentation stage for new products. Product innovation now proceeds at a faster pace than the staging of Expos and communication is becoming more immediate and specialized. It is true that people learn about new products from other more flexible stages and about world cultures and destinations through mobility, television and the Internet.
In this new context, to fulfil their role as platforms for education and progress, Expos must be capable to inspire and connect the actions of governments and civil society in their common endeavour to match available resources to the universal challenges we all face. To this end, at the macro-level, Expos are changing the way in which they encapsulate and communicate innovation, by shifting from a view of innovation purely driven by materials and products, to one supported by solutions and practices.
This is why more recent Expos have placed greater emphasis on the theme as their central core and organizing principle. In so doing, Expos have come to support the dual goals of public diplomacy. On the one hand, Expos represent key assets for governments and international organizations in their effort to communicate the major issues at the top of their global agendas. At the same time, the host city and country can take a leading role in catalysing global attention on a key issue for humanity attaching to it a more innovative and relevant image that advances their brand as well as their cultural and political identity.
Because Expos provide a snapshot of the state of the world at a particular time in order to help the general public understand future perspectives, it is not a coincidence that the themes of Expos, in this new century, all make reference to the top priorities established by the international community.
Expos have identified best practices as a new form of exhibition that can bridge public policy goals and practical implementations and that provide a framework for cooperation between the diverse global players in their public education effort. Best practices are a way to bring together the practical perspective of Expos, the central role of the theme and the educational responsibility of all participants.
At the beginning the BIE recognised three different categories of exhibitions: general exhibitions of first category, general exhibitions of second category and special exhibitions.
After the signature of a new protocol in 1972, the exhibitions of first and second category were grouped together under the name of universal exhibitions, while special exhibitions adopted the designation of specialized exhibitions.
Finally, on July 19th 1996 entered into force an amendment of 1988 to the Convention of 1928, establishing that universal exhibitions will be designated international registered exhibitions or world exhibitions while specialized exhibitions will be named international recognised exhibitions or international exhibitions.