This June, when Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain, wife of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, took to the podium in Paris at the general assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), she eloquently outlined Dubai’s plans to host the World Expo in 2020, if it were to win the bid. Dubai is one of the four contending cities that include São Paulo in Brazil, Izmir, Turkey and the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.
The World Expo is considered one of the largest global, non-commercial events in terms of economic and cultural impact, after the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games. Outlining why Dubai would be honoured to be the chosen host, Shaikh Mohammed said at BIE’s general assembly: “We want to host Expo 2020 — a global event in which the cultures, innovations and creations of the world will meet in Dubai. We want to host the greatest minds in the world to share innovative solutions for global challenges that cannot be dealt with in isolation.”
This only seeks to further emphasise the relevance of Dubai’s theme for the Expo — Connecting Minds, Creating the Future — with the sub themes, mobility, sustainability and opportunity. The theme reflects the belief that tomorrow’s challenges will be far too complex to be met in isolation. They will require partnerships and collaborations to foster innovative, inspirational and practical solutions.
What is testimony to Dubai’s rightful place as the host city is the nationwide display of solidarity seen everywhere, from bumper stickers to glowing billboards. Six of the UAE’s leading companies — Dubai Airports, Emirates Airline, Emirates NBD, Etisalat, DP World and Jumeirah Group — have announced their official support while more than 180 firms from the UAE and around the world have pledged to help raise awareness. Also ensuring that the message spreads far and wide is the yacht True North that is currently circumnavigating the globe.
Dubai’s official bid dossier estimates the total bill to host the Expo at €6.46 billion (about Dh31.7 billion). Its projected operating costs of €1.25 billion will be covered through ticket sales, sponsorship, food and beverage sales, merchandising and other sources. And with an estimated 182 guest nations participating, the number of visitors is expected to be more than 25 million.
For those skeptical about Dubai’s ability to host an event of this scale, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) positive outlook on the country’s economic recovery is reassuring. It maintains that a successful bid will accelerate the pace of implementation of announced mega projects, including Dubai Metro’s Dh5 billion Red Line extension to Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali, Mohammed Bin Rashid City and the Dh10 billion Theme Park Complex near the Jebel Ali port area.
The IMF also noted that the UAE has a perceived safe haven status amid regional unrest, resulting in strong capital flows, a stabilised real estate sector, a gaining non-oil economy and fiscal consolidation.
The UAE’s economic progress has a two-fold benefit, as a strong candidate nation and as representative of the emerging Arab World. “The Middle East is emerging, despite the volatility and conflicts. This reflects the strong human spirit that is helping the region to overcome hurdles,” Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales, Secretary General, BIE, told Gulf News.
Similarly, Dr Ahmad Belhoul, Chief Executive Officer Strategy and Tourism Sector Development, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), tells GN Focus that as the first Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region, an Expo in Dubai would be an extraordinary event. “Dubai would benefit greatly from being the hosts of an event with such a global focus. Having visitors from around the world would substantially impact our tourism industry,” he says.
There is no doubt that Dubai will pull out all the stops once it wins the bid and surprisingly, the tremendous marketing support for this bid has eclipsed the Milan 2015 fair that is anyway contending with the impressive Shanghai Expo of 2010.
Estimated to be the world’s most expensive fair to date, Shanghai received around 73 million visitors in total, with a record 1.03 million in one day alone. According to a Bloomberg report, the event possibly generated tourism spending of more than $13 billion (about Dh48 billion) for Shanghai and neighbouring cities along the Yangtze River.
An economic impact report released by the Dubai government has estimated that 90 per cent of employment opportunities between 2018 and 2020 would arise from the lead-up to the Expo. But the idea, experts say, is to focus on the long-term benefits an event this scale can bring. This is the perfect opportunity for Dubai to showcase its potential as a growing business hub, boost its profile internationally, capitalise on the global media exposure, position itself as an important player on the international stage and use this time to build on various infrastructure projects.