Expo 2020 will alter misconceptions about Dubai, organisers say

Speaking at the Arabian Travel Market on Monday, Expo chiefs say the event will shine a light on the UAE’s sustainability efforts, culture and heritage.

An oud player at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Monday. The city aims to draw 20 million visitors in 2020. Christopher Pike / The National
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DUBAI // Expo 2020 could change preconceptions people may have about Dubai, say event organisers and residents.

“We look at the Expo as an opportunity for the region,” said Marjan Faraidooni, a vice president of the Dubai expo team.

Deirdre Wells, chief executive of UKinbound, who worked on the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, said the expo was a chance to send a message to the world.

“Don’t underestimate the power of these major events to shift misperceptions,” she said.

Referring to people’s perception of the UAE’s culture and whether they would feel welcomed, Ms Wells said major events such as the expo were a great time to market the country.

Ms Faraidooni said that “from a UAE perspective, the reputation aspect is to show that we can pull off a mega event like this, which is the first time in the region”.

“It’s big for the UAE, not only Dubai,” she said.

Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said the expo would enable the emirate to showcase its diverse offerings beyond the glitz and glamour of its five-star hotels and reputation as a shopping destination.

“People know about the beach and retail here, but most are not aware of the cultural and heritage aspects of Dubai. They don’t know there are people from more than 200 nationalities who have chosen to make Dubai their home,” he said.

Dubai aims to attract 20 million visitors in 2020, up from 10 million in 2012. The emirate had set the target before it won the bid to host the expo.

“We want visitors to experience something they’ve never experienced before. This expo is for everyone, not just the business community,” said Ms Faraidooni.

British teacher Holly Bennett, a UAE resident of five years, said people still had many misconceptions about the country.

“I still have friends and family ask me questions that are so far off what we live like here,” she said.

“They ask if women have to cover up, and it’s like they have a big misunderstanding of the UAE in relation to the other countries in the region. It just gets wrapped up in the likes of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, which are nothing like the UAE.”

Italian businessman Franco Berlotti said events such as the expo were positive for the UAE. Mr Berlotti works in sustainable technology, a major theme of Expo 2020.

“The commitment of Expo 2020 to the theme of sustainability is a big statement to the world,” he said. “The UAE isn’t thought of as a pioneer in the field of reusable energy and sustainability, given that it has one of the world’s largest carbon footprints, but this is a huge thing.” ​

At the expo, the UAE will have a solar-powered pavilion that will harvest enough energy for the needs of between 300 and 400 homes for a year.

It will also capture and generate water from waste, groundwater and the atmosphere.