World’s Fair tourism guide

A World’s Fair (commonly called World Exposition, or simply Expo) is large international festival of arts and sciences. Participating countries present artistic and educational displays in national pavilions to showcase world issues or their country’s culture and history. Such is the scale of these events that they are sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in order to control expense and to avoid any clashes with other expositions and large international events, such as the Olympics.


The origins of world’s fairs lay in a French tradition of national exhibitions, and the success of the French Industrial Exposition in 1844 lead to the adoption of such events by neighbouring European countries. The idea made its way to the United Kingdom, which held the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”, better known as simply “The Great Exhibition”, in 1851. This event set down the precedent in terms of scale and content, which expanded beyond a single topic and included exhibits on wider aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism. This format was later copied by several other cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Paris, who held numerous world’s fairs.

The rising popularity of the world’s fair concept brought conflicts of schedule and interest. In 1928, a convention to schedule regular World’s Fairs was created, and the BIE was created to coordinate World’s Fair organization. Soon after, the themes that typified world’s fairs began to change. An international exhibition in New York in 1939-40 began a shift from the unveiling and showcasing of new technologies and practices to exhibits relating to human and cultural experiences. This paradigm continued after the Second World War, and term ‘Expo’ for world’s fairs was coined in 1967 at Montréal’s International and Universal Exposition, or Expo 1967.

The early World Expo was dominated by a popular comprehensive exhibition, such as celebrating the centenary of the founding of a country and the centenary of the French Revolution. In modern times, with the advancement of science and technology, the theme of the Expo has also turned to a certain part of the profession to explore the relationship between new technology and life. Moreover, most of the themes of the World Expo were based on the scientific and technological achievements of the time to meet the needs of the social environment at that time. For example, in the World Expos during the two world wars and the Cold War, most of them were based on the theme of “peace” and “building tomorrow”; from the end of the 20th century, the issue of environmental protection became the focus of attention.

Eventually, the idea that world’s fairs were a great vehicle to advertise countries became prominent, and the pavilions began to carry greater cultural and historical references to the countries that displayed them. Today, world’s fairs contain not only nation branding, but throwbacks to the old paradigms of world’s fairs, showcasing both new and innovative technologies and reflections on the prevailing human condition and experience.

In view of the enormous industrial and economic benefits that the World Expo can bring to the host country, 31 countries that regularly participate in or host the World Expo signed the International Exposition Treaty in 1928 and established the International Exhibition Bureau responsible for regulating the World Expo, until October 2010. As of the 31st, there are 157 member states.

The World Expo does not stipulate how many years to hold it; however, the formal bid request must not be earlier than the first nine years of the expected opening date. The countries that plan to bid should submit an application to the Bureau of International Expositions, present the time and specific subject matter, and then vote at the Assemblies. After the successful bid, the host country will make overall plans, and other countries can be invited to participate in the World Expo so that different countries can exchange ideas on this platform and work together for the future progress of the world. The host country or city will attach great importance to this event because it is an indicator of the country’s prosperity.

There are three types of world’s fair as set out by the BIE:

Universal Expositions (World Expositions) are the largest expositions and are considered the ‘major’ fairs. These events take place every five years and last anywhere between three weeks and three months. They are the most expensive and often most extravagant type of fair, as large international participation requires enough area for each country to promote their national brand. Participants are required to build their own pavilions. This means no expense is spared, often resulting in some spectacular exhibits. Themes are usually universal to the human experience. All events of a suitable scale prior to 1928 were retrospectively made Universal Expositions. The next event will be in 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
International Expositions (Specialized Expositions) are the smaller than Universal Expositions, and are considered the ‘minor’ fairs. These events tend to encompass much narrower or specialised themes. There is no set frequency to these events, although only one may be held in the five-year gap between the larger Universal Exhibitions.
International Horticultural Expositions are specialised events which showcase floral displays, botanical gardens and anything else to do with plants. Although in theory they can take place annually (so long as they are in different countries), in practice they are not. These events normally last anywhere between three and six months, and are held on sites no smaller than 50 hectares. They are jointly sanctioned by the BIE and the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH). The next event will be held in 2019 in Beijing, China.

Additionally, the BIE also recognizes the Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture (also Triennale di Milano, Milan Triennale, or Triennale di Milano International Exhibition) for historical reasons, provided that it retains its original features. The Triennale showcases modern decorative and industrial arts. The most recent Triennale was in 2016.


name Types Host country/city date theme
Milan World Expo Comprehensive Flag of Italy.svg Milan , Italy May 1 to October 31, 2015 Nourish the earth, the energy of life
Antalya World Horticultural Exposition profession Flag of Turkey.svg Antalya , Turkey 2016
Astana World Expo profession Flag of Kazakhstan.svg Astana , Kazakhstan June 10 to September 10, 2017 Future energy
The 21st Milan Trien International Exhibition Milan three years Italy Milan , Italy April 2 to September 12, 2016 After ten years, the Milan Triennial will bloom again.
2016 World Expo Horticulture Expo Turkey Antalya , Turkey April 23 to October 30, 2016 A new generation of green living
2017 International Horticultural Exposition Horticulture Expo Germany Berlin , Germany April 7 to October 6, 2017
2017 Astana Expo International fair Kazakhstan Astana , Kazakhstan June 10 to September 10, 2017 Future energy
Beijing World Expo 2019 Horticulture Expo China Beijing , China Green life, beautiful home
World Expo 2020 World Expo United Arab Emirates Dubai , United Arab Emirates Communicate ideas and create the future
2022 Fu Luo Li Ya Butterfly Horticultural Exposition Horticulture Expo Netherlands Almere , the Netherlands Growing green city

Internationale Gartenausstellung 2017 (IGA 2017), a Horticultural Exposition, in Berlin, Germany, ran from 7 April to 6 October 2017.
Expo Astana 2017, an International Exposition in Astana,Kazakhstan, ran from 10 June to 10 September 2017, with theme Energy of the Future.
XXI Triennale International Exhibition, in Milan, Italy, ran from 2 April to 12 September 2016 with theme 21st Century. Design after Design.
Expo 2016, a Horticultural Exposition in Antalya, [[Turkey], ran from 23 April to 30 October 2016, with the theme A Green Life for Future Generations.
Expo Milan 2015, a Universal Exposition in Milan, Italy, ran from 1 May to 31 October 2015 with the theme Feeding the planet, energy for life.
Expo 2012 (2012 여수 세계 박람회 International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012) was an International Exposition held in Yeosu, South Korea. The theme of the event was ‘The Living Ocean and Coast’, and it ran for three months, from May 12 – August 12, 2012. Expo 2012 received over 8,000,000 visitors and was attended by 103 countries and 8 international organisations.
Floridae 2012 was the most recent instalment of the Netherlands’ decennial flowering and gardening exhibition, the sixth time it was sanctioned by the BIE and AIPH as an International Horticultural Exposition. Held in the southeastern city of Venlo, the theme of the event was ‘Be part of the theatre in nature; get closer to the quality of life’
Expo 2010 ((上海世博会 Shanghai Shibohui), a Universal Exposition, was held in Shanghai, China. The theme was ‘Better City – Better Life’, focusing on urban development. The event ran for 184 days, opening on May 1 and closing on October 31, 2010. World fair attendance records were broken, with more than 73,000,000 overall visitors over the six months, including more than 1,000,000 visitors on October 16 alone. Over 180 countries participated in the event.