Dubai Expo 2020: All you need to know

It's the date everyone in the UAE is looking forward to, but what can we expect when October 20, 2020 rolls around? Let us explain

Spending on Dubai Expo 2020 is forecast to stimulate the UAE's economy in 2018 and beyond. Expo 2020
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What is Expo?

It is a global destination for millions of people to share ideas, showcase innovation, encourage collaboration and celebrate human ingenuity. They are organised every five years and last for six months.

The first World Expo was held in 1851 at London's Crystal Palace and was known as The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. It displayed about 100,00 objects showcasing the inventions from the industrial revolution.

Some of the amazing inventions which were first brought to the world at an expo include the telegraph in London in 1851, the typewriter in Philadelphia in 1876, the diesel engine in Paris in 1900, the colour TV in New York in 1964, IMAX film in Osaka in 1970, and wireless trams in Yeosu in 2012.

The most recent expo, which started in 2015, was held in Milan, Italy, under the theme of "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life". Inventions to come out of it include solar trees and energy saving elevators - something which would be useful in the UAE with all of the high-rise buildings.

How did Dubai win?

Celebrations in Dubai after the victory announcement. Christopher Pike / The National
Celebrations in Dubai after the victory announcement. Christopher Pike / The National

"Ladies and gentlemen, Dubai wins."

Those were the words in 2013 which brought about scenes of jubilation both in Paris at the general assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the international organisation responsible for overseeing, regulating and selecting the candidate for the world fair, and in the UAE where residents were waiting for the outcome of the voting of the 164 nation members entitled to vote. Dubai won by a resounding majority with 116 votes, leaving Yekaterinburg, Russia, with only 47.

“I am proud of our teams who earned this victory for Dubai with two years of hard work, dedication and commitment,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said. “We renew our promise to astonish the world in 2020.”

Reem Al Hashemi, Minister of State and managing director of the Dubai World Expo 2020 bid committee, had earlier delivered an emotional speech to the BIE committee. She received resounding applause for her 20-minute presentation which contained videos on Dubai's strengths of diversity, infrastructure and stability.

When the victory announcement was made fireworks filled the sky in Dubai as they exploded out of the Burj Khalifa in front of thousands of smiling faces below. Sheikh Mohammed later announced a holiday for all educational institutions across the UAE.

Above, an artist rendition of the Dubai Expo 2020 masterplan. Courtesy Expo 2020
Above, an artist rendition of the Dubai Expo 2020 masterplan. Courtesy Expo 2020

After two years of hard work and planning, Dubai's bid to host Expo 2020 had reached 850 million people through social media, with none of the other contenders coming close according to Fisheye Analytics.


See more:

The Emirati faces behind Expo 2020 Dubai

In pictures: World Expo 2020 finalist cities


Where is it being held?

The Expo site is located in the area known as Dubai South, close to Al Maktoum International Airport. The site covers 4.38 sq km and has four main entrances. The Dubai Metro Route 2020 will take 46,000 passengers per hour to and from the Expo site in under 16 minutes from Dubai Marina.

What can visitors expect?

Al Wasl Plaza will be the heart of Expo 2020. It is said to bring together a physical manifestation of the main theme of the Expo, which is "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future." Significant events such as the opening and closing ceremonies will be held here.

The public were given their first look in April 2017 at how Al Wasl Plaza is expected to shape up. A dome is set to double up as a 360-degree screen at night, projecting images to thousands of visitors both inside and outside.

The plaza will connect the three thematic districts – Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility – and the other main concourses, including the Dubai Metro link and the UAE Pavilion, through its seven entrances and exits.
The plaza will connect the three thematic districts – Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility – and the other main concourses, including the Dubai Metro link and the UAE Pavilion, through its seven entrances and exits.

The dome will be 65 metres tall with a diameter of 150m, and will hold an estimated 10,000 visitors, said Ahmed Al Khatib, vice president of property at Expo 2020 Dubai. Filled with fountains, waterfalls, parks and palm-lined courtyards, the dome will be partly open to the sky at the top.

You can read more and see more renderings of Al Wasl Plaze here.

Each participating country will have its own pavilion, while there will also be a pavilion for each of the main themes - sustainability, mobility and opportunity.

The UAE pavilion meanwhile is being designed by Santiago Calatrava and features the outline of a falcon.

How is progress on the site going?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid took a helicopter ride above the site on August 7, 2017 to get a bird's eye view of the progress. The video showed how the site, which expects to see 25 million visitors, was taking shape with the different districts clearly visible.

A further birds-eye-view came in the summer of 2018, with structures topped out amid the sea of cranes. The Dubai Metro line was also highlighted in the video below, as it snakes its way from the Expo site towards the city to create a seamless journey for visitors. In March, 2019, the Roads and Transport Authority said the metro extension was on schedule.

To mark two year's to go until the grand opening, The National visited the Expo site in October to see how much progress had been made.

Infrastructure work had already been completed on deep utilities, sewage, storm water, electricity sub stations, cabling, water lines, telecommunication and roads.

The foundation and structural work was also complete in the three theme districts. About 40,000 workers will be on site daily in 2019 to ensure the project keeps its tight schedule.

In April, 2018, Luxembourg became the first country to break ground on the construction of its pavilion. It is designed by architects Metaform and its design features a ramp to all floors with an overall spiral shape, within which there will be multiple areas for exhibiting and a restaurant.

A month later, New Zealand's design was revealed. It will tell the story of New Zealand's kaitiakitanga - the care and connection between land and people.

Then, in September, Germany unveiled its pavilion, complete with a "vertical campus" that will show off the latest in sustainable design and artificial intelligence.

Saudi Arabia was the latest country to unveil its pavilion, which it says will be used to promote its drive to attract tourists and businesses to the kingdom.

What will the legacy be?

According to the official Expo 2020 website, the legacy plans are "wide-ranging and ambitious". "We hope to stimulate the development of a knowledge economy here in Dubai, anchored to the Expo site itself, which will continue, after the event, to be a destination that attracts visitors, students and companies and is home to a combination of organisations including strategic industries, specialised technology companies, social entities and education facilities," it says. More than 80 per cent of the site is planned to be reused or repurposed in the legacy phase.

"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," Marjan Faraidooni, senior vice president of legacy development and impact at Expo 2020 Dubai, wrote in The National in July.

Siemens has already announced that it would be setting up its global logistics base on the Expo site from 2021, while she added that other companies are actively considering following in its tracks.

A conference and exhibition centre will be a key building in the Expo master plan, and will become a major event venue to be operated by Dubai World Trade Centre.

A model of Dubai South, which includes the site for the Expo 2020. Pawan Singh / The National
A model of Dubai South, which includes the site for the Expo 2020. Pawan Singh / The National

The Expo project has given a boost to the area around the site developments being ramped up in Dubai South.

Off-plan sales in the first seven months of the year in Dubai South increased 285 per cent, compared with the whole of last year, property analysts Reidin said in a report.

Once the site is fully developed, it is expected to be home to about 1 million residents and 500,000 jobs.

It's not just on the ground that the Expo effect will be felt, as Uber has signed an agreement with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority to test flying cars at Expo 2020.

During his visit to the site in December 2018, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid called for youth to be at the heart of the Expo.

"The event is one of the largest global gatherings that bring together the world’s greatest minds to discuss how we can shape the future,' he said. "The youth should play a key part in this mega event and get opportunities to observe, learn and contribute creative ideas so that they can develop innovative solutions for creating a better future for our region and the world."

The public has been enthusiatic about the Expo. In a March 2019 survery, Dubai residents are confident Expo 2020 will deliver a positive impact on the economy, society and culture.

The logo

The inspiration behind the logo came from a ring found at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in the desert in the Al Marmum area of Dubai.

The winning design was revealed by Sheikh Mohammed last year and was displayed on the Burj Khalifa.

The Expo 2020 logo, he said, “represents our message to the world that our civilisation has deep roots. We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilisations and a centre for innovation”.

Jonathan Gornall tells a wonderful story here on how the discovery of the ring can be attributed to Sheikh Mohammed himself.

Sarah Dea / The National
Sarah Dea / The National

This article was first published on August 7, 2017. It was last updated on April 15, 2019.