Thailand officially submitted last week the candidacy of Ayutthaya city to host the World Expo 2020. Thailand has been thrilled by the enormous success of Shanghai World Expo 2010, which attracted 70 million visitors, a world record in the history of such an event. Thailand announced last year its bid to host the event and short-listed rapidly three locations: Chiang Mai, Chonburi, and Ayutthaya.
Although Chonburi – with the infamous city of Pattaya – is easy to reach from Bangkok and from Suvarnabhumi Airport, the province image could have turned into a source of problems. Visitors to the World Expo could effectively be exposed to what is probably the largest concentration of prostitutes in the world. Chiang Mai also represented an attractive alternative. However, tourism remains very shaky in Thailand’s northern capital. Despite its attractions, Chiang Mai hotels suffer from oversupply with occupancy of around 40% last year. Building mega-infrastructures in Chiang Mai would have then cost a lot of money, with weak perspectives to balance the investment post-Expo. Chiang Mai was due to expand its airport to accommodate 12 million passengers – compared to 3.5 million passengers last year – while a high-speed train would have linked the city to Bangkok.
Selecting Ayutthaya was then the most logical development. The city is only 70 km away north of Bangkok and is already easy to reach by a good highway system from the capital. In 2010, commercial accommodation in Ayutthaya registered 340,000 travelers, including 143,000 foreign visitors. But according to the management of Ayutthaya Historical Park, about 4 million people come every year to visit the UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. However, the city has been threatened to be removed from the UNESCO list, as development is uncontrolled and law enforcement is poor with respect to the urban planning of the old city. In the last two decades, high-rise buildings or enlarged roads have encroached into historical areas, destroying the old charm of the city.
However, with or without UNESCO status, Ayutthaya still remains an attractive place to visit. And if the World Expo Committee finally chooses Thailand over its rivals, Ayutthaya will have to be well prepared to accommodate the event. The city can expect to welcome, at least during 6 months, an estimated 10 to 12 million domestic and international travelers. But the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), which is in charge of the promotion of the World Expo on international markets, estimates that the event could draw up to 37 million visitors and generate expo income (tickets and sponsorship) of THB 61.8 billion (US$2.06 billion). Ayutthaya Province could also see its economy boosted by up to THB 194 billion (US$6.5 billion) due to the multiplier effect.
The government has decided to pay up to THB 240 million to acquire land in an area called Bangsai, outside the old town and on the way to Bangkok. The district is already home to Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Center, a 256-hectare area. The government wants to acquire another 64 hectares to give the future expo a total surface of 320 hectares. The site would then be transformed into a center for arts and culture post-Expo.
Funds will also be provided to speed up hotel constructions. With only 3,000 hotel rooms in Ayutthaya, the city will not be able to accommodate an expected number of 200,000 visitors per day. However, the construction of a high-speed train to Bangkok will help accommodate travelers in the capital. Minimal requirements will be necessary to control possible flooding. The selected site is immune from water flooding, while the Expo will take place from January to June, prior to the rainy season.
TCEB will also receive an additional budget of THB 100 million for the promotion of Ayutthaya World Expo in 2012. The next step will be the launch of a mascot and a logo, due to be selected by July after a contest. There is already a positive sign regarding the nomination. According to the Bangkok Post, Ayutthaya already experienced a rise in total number of visitors, with a possible growth of 25%, to 5 million tourists until the end of the year. Host city for World Expo 2020 will be announced in 2014.