charles pappas expo 2020
A senior writer with the Exhibitor, Charles Pappas is an avid fan and expert on World Expos Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: At Expo 2020 Dubai, when you pick up the visitor guide or tune into an audio tour, you are learning about World Expos straight from the expert on the subject. So deep is Charles Pappas’ knowledge on world fairs that Expo organisers enlisted his help to design the visitor experience – something no exposition has done before.

Where your context of the mega-event is patchy, Pappas steps in to unravel the fascinating 170-year legacy behind The World’s Greatest Show and to tell you why it matters.

“The [context] is often missing, but it is something Expo 2020 Dubai has really accomplished well. They actually get that they have to convey what state the world is in and what solutions we could offer,” Pappas told Gulf News in an interview, ahead of his talk at the USA Pavilion.

A senior writer for Rochester-based Exhibitor Magazine, Pappas has had his ear to the ground in the expos industry for two decades. In February 2022, he plans to visit with his team to dispatch designers from across the globe, who will judge and evaluate the best pavilions of Expo 2020 in terms of design, staff, technology and sustainability. It will culminate in a historical record of sorts backed by years of research.

An Expo for the people

When IBM computers began reading visitors’ handwriting, it struck a chord with a young Pappas at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. He watched tech scepticism – over baby incubators to computers – gradually melt into acceptance through exhibits. And ever since, he has carried with him the belief that World Expos have the power to do some good. Now it’s more to do with social movement than extraordinary inventions.

Stock - Virgin Hyperloop at Expo
Virgin Hyperloop pod inside the DP World Pavilion Image Credit: Supplied

“Expo 2020 is getting the world used to the fact that we are burning, we are on fire, and many of the solutions are right here for them to see,” said Pappas, adding that the large number of global visitors to Dubai will help spread the awareness faster.

“It won’t be a device this time; it’s in the invisible part of Expo that will have the biggest effect. For example, you have Expo Live, which has gathered and funded some 140 innovators – something the world expos have always wanted do but this one really did it.”

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A visit for the books

Still, a few exciting inventions might make the books, according to Pappas. There is the water-from-air technology in the Netherlands and Czech Republic pavilions, and world’s first compressed air trains chugging across the site. But he settles on the Hyperloop (think airplanes on ground) that could offer a long-term solution to the way we travel in the future. A pilot pod by Virgin Hyperloop inside the DP World Pavilion brings us closer to that reality.

paris expo 1889
On their fourth time hosting the World Expos, France commemorated the iconic Eiffel tower in hopes of building the tallest structure in the world. To this day, the tower looms over Paris at a monumental height of 300 metres Image Credit: Flickr/trialsanderrors

“Back in the old days at Expos, we used to talk about ‘out-Eiffel Eiffel’ because the 1889 Expo with the Eiffel Tower set the standard for its wow factor. After this one I think they’re going to do ‘Out-Dubai Dubai’,” said Pappas.

The first World Expo in the Middle East is shifting trends for the better as we speak. When you come around, remember – your visit will be the one for the books.