The country also expected to host the World Cup in 2034 achieves the latest in a series of victories for Gulf states on international events.
The Expo 2030 world’s fair will be held in Riyadh in another hosting victory for a Gulf country after Qatar put on football’s World Cup last year.
South Korea’s Busan and Italy’s Rome were also in the running to host the world’s fair, a once-every-five-year event that attracts millions of visitors and billions of dollars in investment.
Saudi Arabia’s capital won 119 votes, Busan 29 and Rome 17, results from 182 members of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) showed on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia needed to garner two-thirds of the votes to win in the first round.
The Italian contestants were scathing in their criticism of the result.
“This huge result for Saudi was unexpected in those proportions,” Giampiero Massolo, head of the Italian Expo bid, told reporters. “It is no longer about the merits but about transactions.”
“Yesterday it was a soccer championship. Tomorrow it will be the Olympics,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, as the only declared candidate, is set to host the 2034 World Cup and is also planning an Olympics bid.
Riyadh had enlisted football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for the capital’s Al Nassr club, to persuade BIE members in a video shown before the vote. The city has proposed to host the event from October 2030 to March 2031.
The win is the icing on the cake for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 programme, which aims to wean the country off its oil dependency.
“We had a fantastic team of ministers going around the world, engaging our counterparts in a very, very active way to understand what they expected, what they were looking for and what we should deliver in order to gain their trust,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said.
Critics said the crown prince wants to use the expo to improve his country’s image after the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi agents.