When Expo 2020 opens in October, it is going to be a beginning that for many will feel like the end of a long and difficult road. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the international gathering is taking place 12 months later than originally scheduled. Inevitably, there will be a widespread feeling of relief that we finally made it.
But soon after that, those of us who are part of the Expo 2020 economy will buckle down and get back to work. It is a welcome opportunity for us in the hospitality industry and elsewhere to bustle with activity again, after the trying times of Covid-19.
The hospitality sector is just one part of the Expo 2020 economy, helping a wide range of workers, from foreign delegates to construction crews, IT specialists to entertainers. But the lift that Expo 2020 is giving us, I believe, is indicative of the event’s wider benefits for the economy of the UAE.
According to the latest forecast from hospitality industry data provider STR, Dubai hotel occupancy is set to rise by an astonishing 77 per cent year-on-year, with revenue per available room rising by an even stronger 86 per cent. These are heartening numbers after so many hard months.
This is not just confined to hotels near the Expo 2020 site. Even those further afield, such as those on Yas Island Abu Dhabi, are expected to do good business.
This new optimism is reflected in a measurement called the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which surveys executives to see if their businesses are contracting or expanding. A PMI score less than 50 means that the signs indicate an upcoming to contraction, while a score more than 50 means expansion is expected. As early as the first quarter of this year, the average UAE PMI was up 7.5 per cent year-on-year, and was settling comfortably into the expansion zone with a score of more than 50 in March. That surge has sped up as Expo 2020 draws nearer. The score for July was 54, the best since January 2019. The Central Bank of the UAE has cited Expo 2020 as one of the reasons for the rally, and expects the effect to endure into the first quarter of 2022, given the fact that the event will continue until the end of March 2022.
Economic statistics can seem dry, but at the same time they tell us about what is happening in people’s lives as workers. An economy is the sum of many moving parts. But each of those parts, after a hard day’s work, needs a place to rest for the night and muster energy for the day ahead. This is the essence of how hotels serve the economy. If we do our job properly, people feel cared for and refreshed and are better able to keep pushing the economy forward, day after day. We are part of a collective effort to advance the nation.
Hotels are holding “Expo ready” education sessions for their teams. We will have special menus for the event, shuttle buses, Expo 2020 passports for kids and even specialised catering such as kosher food for Israeli tour groups.
As The National observed in an editorial almost exactly a year ago today: “In 2021, the UAE can showcase itself as a bulwark of stability in a fluctuating world, while providing people from all countries safe and secure environs to meet, exchange ideas and strike partnerships with the sole purpose of building a better world.”
The hospitality industry is united in working towards the success of Expo 2020, not only to benefit the nation but to inspire the world. We can show a path forward to better days, much as the Tokyo Olympics did recently. The Games had their difficult moments and there was much trepidation ahead of time, but in the end they brought happiness to people worldwide. As the German Paralympic long jumper Vanessa Low observed: “You can make all these plans and you can have a game plan for the next couple of years, but things change. And sometimes those changes aren't bad. Sometimes those changes are your biggest opportunities.”
Expo 2020 is our opportunity to dazzle the world with amazing moments and inspiring efforts. This is our Olympics.