Has Expo 2020 made Burj Khalifa the new Eiffel Tower?

Recent data suggests that the Burj Khalifa is now the most desirable tourism landmark on the planet

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Since its inception 170 years ago, the World Expo, an event that showcases humanity's most important inventions, has been associated with advanced engineering. In 1851, it was held in London's Crystal Palace, a glass structure so impressive that an entire area in the UK capital is named after it. In 1889, France commissioned the Eiffel Tower for its Exposition Universelle. Its worldwide fame and the genius of the entrepreneur behind it, Gustave Eiffel, makes it the most popular tourism destination in France, which is still the world's most visited country.

But after decades at the top, the Eiffel Tower has a rival in the UAE. According to new data from the luxury travel company Kuoni, Dubai's Burj Khalifa is now the most desirable landmark to visit in the world.

The timing could not be more symbolic. The news comes less than a fortnight before the UAE opens Expo 2020 Dubai, part of the same tradition behind the Exposition Universelle that led to the creation of the Eiffel Tower more than 130 years ago.

The international fame of Emirati landmarks is an aspect of the country's identity that won it the candidacy to hold the event. More than just the Burj Khalifa, visitors will be a short journey from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest places of worship on the planet, which was named after Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, now one of the Middle East's most famous examples of modern architecture, as well as the emirate of Sharjah's House of Wisdom, a library that is home to more than 300,000 books, also have growing international reputations. There are many more examples across all seven emirates.

Buildings at the Expo 2020 site itself are feats of engineering. The Dutch pavilion, for example, will comprise a giant cone covered with edible plants and a solar-powered rain shower to highlight the issue of water and food scarcity.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: Fabien Maurin

The heart of the Expo 2020 site is Al Wasl Plaza which will host its opening ceremony. The list of performers has recently been announced. They include opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Golden Globe-winning actress, singer and songwriter Andra Day, platinum-selling British pop star Ellie Goulding, Chinese pianist Lang Lang and four-time Grammy winning singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo. There will also be performances by regional artists including the "Artist of Arabs" Mohamed Abdu, much-loved Emirati singing sensation Ahlam Alshamsi and Emirati artist and Expo 2020 Dubai ambassador Hussain Al Jassmi, a trendsetter on the Khaleeji music scene. It will be one of the biggest concerts the world has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

All this is happening at a site with hundreds of modern architectural concepts, in a city that can now lay claim to the world's most desirable landmark, in a country that over recent years has commissioned some of the world's most ambitious buildings. The core of World Expo has always been a sense of global spectacle, and the UAE's built environment is well placed to give it just that.

Published: September 21, 2021, 3:00 AM