(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia was awarded another global event on Tuesday with its selection to host the 2030 World Expo as the oil-rich kingdom looks to boost tourism and transform its austere reputation.

The capital, Riyadh, with 119 votes, comfortably beat out South Korea’s Busan and Rome, the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris said in a post on X Tuesday. South Korea received 29 votes and Italy 17.

The international fair, held every five years, will run in Saudi Arabia from October 2030 to March 2031. It will be the second time that the event has been held in the Middle East after Dubai hosted the pandemic-delayed Expo 2020.

The Saudi government has said it planned to spend $7.8 billion to stage the Expo if it succeeded with its bid, which was themed “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow.”

Saudi Arabia is also expected to be chosen as the site for the 2034 FIFA World Cup after its bid was unopposed, and will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at a mountain resort in Neom, an entirely new $500 billion development in the north-west of the country.

Riyadh was until just a few years ago an unlikely host for a global event. The kingdom was largely closed off to foreign holidaymakers until it introduced tourist visas in 2019 as part of a plan under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to diversify the economy.

Since Prince Mohammed, widely known as MBS, rose to prominence almost a decade ago, he’s defanged the religious police and removed restrictions on gender mixing and women driving. 

Transformation Plan

Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader has also spearheaded efforts to invest billions of dollars in sports and culture in an attempt to make the country more appealing to tourists and expatriate workers, as part of a wider transformation plan known as Vision 2030. 

Soccer clubs in the country spent nearly $1 billion over the summer on foreign players as the country looked to develop its local league.

Dubai used the Expo, delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as a way to jump-start its economy at a time when the world started to emerge from travel lockdowns. It said that more than 24 million people visited the site during the six-month event.

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