Izmir's Expo 2020 bid gains momentum

Izmir is pushing hard for the city to host Expo 2020 under the theme of health.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 11/12/12

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With its modern infrastructure and 8,500-year cultural heritage, Izmir is again looking to make its mark on the world as it pushes to host Expo 2020, the world's largest international fair.

  • An aerial view of the Aegean city of Izmir. [AFP]

    An aerial view of the Aegean city of Izmir. [AFP]

  • A thermal bath in the historical city of Allianoi, in Izmir, was once a healing centre due to therapeutic spring waters. [AFP]

    A thermal bath in the historical city of Allianoi, in Izmir, was once a healing centre due to therapeutic spring waters. [AFP]

  • A woman waves a flag of the Expo 2015 in Milan on March 31st 2008, after the city beat Izmir to host the event. [AFP]

    A woman waves a flag of the Expo 2015 in Milan on March 31st 2008, after the city beat Izmir to host the event. [AFP]

In late November, Izmir made its third presentation to the International Exhibitions Bureau (IEB), the inter-governmental body that oversees the selection and organisation of the World Expo.

"We inherited this city from the glorious civilizations of the past. In turn, we would like to share this heritage with the future of humankind," Safak Pavey, an opposition CHP deputy and member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, told SES Türkiye.

Hosting the event would put an international spotlight on the Turkish landmark, boost the city's economy with an increase in tourism and bring about some infrastructure improvements that will benefit the area for years after the fair, organizers said.

As outlined in Izmir's 656-page nomination file, the theme of Izmir's Expo bid is health, under the slogan "New Routes to a Better World/Health for All."

IEB officials told SES Türkiye Izmir's presentation was of high quality and well-received by the organisation's member states.

"It confirmed that the candidature is fully supported by the Turkish government and showed that the theme is of great interest for the international community, that Izmir and Turkey, because of their history and context, are appropriate to invite the global community to discuss around this theme and that the Expo project aims at capitalizing on the national talents and assets," a statement from the organisation said.

The theme is divided into four categories: innovation in health to find solutions to modern challenges and the problems of the future; creation of global platforms to collaborate on sustainable health systems; embedding a culture of healthy living; and public education on health issues.

The theme takes its roots from the role of the Aegean region in the healthcare sector since antiquity, when Asklepion at the ancient Greek and Roman city of Pergamon was a centre of health and a school for doctors.

Today, the city boasts a pleasant Mediterranean climate, impressive health facilities, and a plethora of thermal spas to draw in visitors from Turkey and the world. Izmir's bid comes as Turkey has succeeded over the past decade in improving the nation's health services, an experience it strives to share with other countries by hosting the Expo.

To host the fair, the city would, among other things, construct a 270-hectare urban park along the sea to be used as national pavilion.

After the Expo is concluded, the site will be transformed into a health centre and nature park to serve as a model for the future. Izmir is looking to the Expo to turn the city and region into a centre for health tourism, hoping to tap into the multi-billion euro European market.

According to the estimates of Health Tourism Association, each year 130,000 people come to Turkey for treatment with another 250,000 visiting the country just for thermal tourism, rehabilitation and services for the elderly.

"Izmir knows that a city which can accommodate the disabled, can care for the elderly, the pregnant, the children and the sick alike," Pavey said.

The city's unique position as a bridge between Asia and Europe, the Black Sea and Mediterranean, reinforces its image as a meeting place for everyone to live in harmony with all regions and cultures, and to help establish a better and healthier world. Izmir's bid is also strengthen by the fact it is only a three-hour plane ride from three continents and 48 countries.

Expo fairs can give an economic boost to the cities where they are held, acting as catalyst for urban regeneration and regional development. Authorities estimate the fair will attract up to $50 million (90 million TL) in investment and draw 30 million visitors between April and October 2020, when the fair would be held.

Speaking to SES Türkiye, Meral Inci Zaim, a businesswoman and board member of Turkish Industry and Business Association working on Izmir's candidacy, said the city will become a centre of attraction following the increase in economic and cultural investments, resulting in significant socio-economic development of the region.

In 2008, Izmir bid to hold the 2015 Expo but lost to Milan, Italy. Now the city and Turkey aren't taking any chances.

A series of communication campaigns and lobby activities are under way with the support of diplomats, civil society organisations, and businesses all pushing Izmir's candidacy to their foreign counterparts.

Izmir governor Cahit Kirac told SES Türkiye the city has requested state ministers help convince "critical" countries to gain their votes.

Meanwhile, Izmir has established contacts with delegations in 90 countries, attended 26 international events and hosted seven events, such as the 81st Izmir International Fair to promote the city's candidacy.

"Such initiatives show once again that diplomacy became an integral part of our social, economic and cultural lives," Kirac said.

Zaim said that all businesses should support this process by increasing their lobbying activities abroad.

"As a city having hosted a high number of international symposium and fairs, this will have a positive impact on the business aspect of the region by rendering it a "brand city,'" Zaim said.

Politically, Pavey said Izmir's candidacy shows how Turkey's political parties can unify for a common cause. Izmir, a bastion of the main opposition CHP, has received strong support from the government and all political parties.

To host the international fair, the city must receive at least two-thirds of the 161 votes cast by BIE member countries in the first round of voting. If no candidate reaches two-thirds, a process of elimination follows with the city receiving the least votes losing until a finalist is selected.

Izmir's competition for holding the 2020 fair includes Russia's Yekaterinburg, Thailand's Ayutthaya, Brazil's Sao Paulo and the United Arab Emirates' Dubai. The selection will be held in November 2013. Turkey has never hosted a World Expo, but has participated in them since the first in 1851.


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