Expo 2020 is a big step in this country’s journey

Expo 2020 will be an economic and political achievement for the UAE, writes Marjan Faraidooni

A model of the Expo 2020 Dubai project. Reuters
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As the Expo 2020 Dubai team continues its preparations, its focus remains not just on its launch in October 2020, but the longer-term future as an important new chapter in the evolving development of the nation.

From the moment that Dubai and the wider UAE decided to bid for and then won the right to stage Expo 2020, a key driver of its organising team’s thinking was what would follow. Events such as this require big investment. Ensuring that the staging of Expo has long-term value – by integrating it firmly within Dubai's wider plans – is vital.

Previous Expos have delivered a handsome return on investment to their host city. That started with London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, but not all have so successfully followed this early example and a number allowed their costs to overrun. The most notorious example was the cost overrun of the 1976 Montreal Olympics of some 720 per cent in real terms, leaving its citizens with debts that took about 30 years to pay off. Expo 2020’s team has been learning from the experiences of past major events and is determined to avoid the possible pitfalls while leaving a positive, long-lasting impact.

There are, in any case, fundamental differences to Dubai’s Expo and the host cities that came before it. This Expo is being staged for the first time by a developing country versus a developed city such as Milan, which was the host city in 2015.

Expo is an extension of our existing national development: supporting our tourism vision and also our vision of general economic and physical growth.

Expo 2020 intends to reveal in-depth plans for its site later in 2017, but already world-class companies are taking notice of the potential for a ready-made base that offers good transport links and the very latest of architecture and design technology. Earlier this year, Siemens announced that it would be setting up its global logistics base on the Expo site from 2021. Other companies are actively considering following in its tracks.

Expo will make way for this important new integrated community of businesses and residential communities in its Dubai South site from 2021.

In many ways, the Expo site is being built on the back of outstanding national assets that are already being planned or in place.

An example is the Al Maktoum International Airport expansion plans, scheduled for completion in 2025. It lies just 20 minutes by road from the Expo site and is anticipated to become the busiest airport in the world in the longer term.

Another example is hotel accommodation. Our visitor target – 25 million international and domestic visitors – aligns with Dubai’s overall ambition of attracting 20 million visitors by 2020. It’s not about building extra hotel rooms for the Expo. We are a part of Dubai’s ongoing growth story. There are just over 104,435 hotel rooms in Dubai with another 28,000 to be added by 2018.

We are a growing economy and Expo will help us continue with the growth pattern that we’re on as a nation. So Expo 2020 should be seen as but a step – albeit a very important, momentous step – on a bigger journey that the UAE is undertaking.

The three key sub-themes of Expo – opportunity, sustainability and mobility – also dovetail very neatly with numerous government policy documents, topped by Vision 2021.

Included in legacy thinking is a plan for the Sustainability Pavilion to continue to serve its future visitors and occupants as an educational institution, or science ‘Exploratorium’, for the decades that follow Expo.

That continuing usage goes for some 80 per cent of the structures that will host the six months of Expo from October 2020 and then find new life afterwards rather than being dismantled.

Apart from the obvious physical and economic boons through job growth and contribution to the national GDP, the Expo team has not neglected the reputational benefits that this global destination will leave behind.

Expo is a celebration in time when people will come and experience something unique in a unique part of the world. It will push forward that story that we want to create in the future.

Expo 2020 aims to be the first in the 166-year history of the event to boast more than 70 per cent of overseas visitors, but since the UAE is already home to close to 200 nationalities, the uniquely cosmopolitan nature of the next Expo should not come as a surprise.

The country itself, within an eight-hour flight of two-thirds of the global population, is already well established as a gathering point for the world despite its short, 45-year existence. It’s an important moment in time for us because we are a small nation and for us to pull off such an event will be testament to the world that no matter what your size, if you have the right vision in place you can do it.

We are building a city in Dubai South that is here to stay and will bolster the many other plans for growth that our leaders have for the country.

Expo will be so much more than a six-month event – it will be an economic and political achievement. Here we have the support of the entire government, our leading companies and other entities.

The success of the Expo 2020 means everything to everybody here.

Marjan Faraidooni is senior vice president of legacy development and impact at Expo 2020 Dubai