Many people in the UAE and neighbouring countries were happy when Dubai won the bid to host the World Expo 2020, despite the fact that many of them may not know the details of this international event. They sense that this victory has sent waves of joy not only across the UAE, but the region as well. However, they probably wonder what differentiates this exhibition from others that are hosted throughout the year by Dubai.

This is a reasonable and logical question. One must ask whether the responsibility of providing the answer is a new task that should be given to the committee responsible for World Expo 2020. After all, raising the common man’s awareness about an upcoming event will help inform him about his responsibilities towards the event. Undoubtedly, this is a task that was part of the committee’s responsibilities. Apart from the fact that this should have been implemented earlier, it seems that it will be carried out over the next year or two.

People familiar with the event will associate it with human history. The World Expo 2020 is, in every sense of the word, a ‘historical’ event that represents human civilisation and innovators at various levels, particularly the achievements of the West’s industrial revolution.

The World Expo was first organised in London in 1851. This makes it perhaps one of the oldest international exhibitions. It is a six-month event that takes place every five years in different countries around the world. The people in the UAE will be able to witness the event first-hand in 2020, but before that, the event will be taking place in Italy in 2015. Italy will be a golden opportunity for Dubai, as it will be able to observe the event in a European setting, allowing it to learn about the exhibition and avoid replicating ideas regarding its organisation. This will ensure that Dubai’s edition of the event will stand out in terms of uniqueness and creativity.

World Expo 2020 is not simply an exhibition; it is much more than that. What differentiates it from the hundreds of other exhibitions around the world is that it is an international event.

What is the difference between a normal exhibition and an international one?

The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) only recognises three or four exhibitions and that includes the World Expo and International Horticultural Exhibition. Other exhibitions, despite their significance, are not recognised as international ones. The BIE views exhibitions as being of two types: International exhibitions and specialised international exhibitions. The word ‘international’ confers a certain meaning in terms of size, appearance and concept. In addition to implying comprehensiveness, it also indicates that the exhibition is a global event and the showcased items and innovations are of worldwide interest and benefit. By definition, World Expo presents industrial inventions and innovations to other countries. It reflects the achievements of the West’s Industrial Revolution. One can go even further and say that it is the meeting point for cultural knowledge and various philosophies, where people can acquaint themselves with future plans.

World Expo also attracts tourists to the host cities. Aside from spending money to fly in to the country, they also dine, stay at the hotels and shop. It also creates opportunities for the signing of many lucrative commercial deals.

The pavilions and stands at World Expo also play a very crucial part. Previously, the host country would offer participating countries a space or pavilion to display their products, as per the 1867 agreement. However, in 1928, participating countries began to set up their own creatively designed and adorned pavilions, but the 1867 agreement was enforced in 1931.

What is truly magnificent about hosting the World expo, in light of all its contributions throughout history, is that the participating countries also consider it a very special event and therefore the host country seeks to immortalise it by setting up various projects that are useful to the nation. For example, the Paris Metro was completed when the World Expo was hosted in 1955; same with the Montreal Metro in 1967. There are also other urban projects that were completed for the World Expo and now serve as landmarks of countries and cities, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Atomium in Brussels, Space Needle in Seattle and the Montreal Biosphere.

The question is: What is the landmark that Dubai will be erecting to immortalise World Expo 2020, just like previous host countries? What kind of international sports, economic or other events will Dubai be hosting, following the rich global experience of World Expo? There is no doubt that an event as prominent as World Expo will bring about many benefits on the commercial, economic, tourism, cultural and knowledge-economy level. There are already various reports that are positive and optimistic about the effect that the event will have on Dubai and the UAE and even on some neighbouring countries. The financial figures are still under evaluation, despite figures published by local and Gulf papers. There are, however, two reliable reports that one should look into. According to research by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 80,000 new jobs will be created in Dubai’s construction sector. A report by Standard Chartered points out that around 300,000 jobs in total are expected to be created by World Expo and that approximately 90 per cent of these jobs will come between 2018 and 2021.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a writer and journalist.