My Dubai Expo: Meet the 'Expo Grandpa' who has visited 16 world fairs

Ronald Skiles, 74, has been to expos around the world – and has no plan to stop until he's 103

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Most visitors attending Expo 2020 Dubai have never been to an expo before, and some might not even know the purpose of a world fair, before arriving at the enormous gates.

But Ronald Skiles is definitely not one of those people.

Aged 74, he has now clocked up visits to 16 of the world's fairs, and has no plans to stop travelling.

His enthusiasm for expos started in 1962 when he attended his first Bureau International des Expositions event in Seattle, in Washington state. The bureau is responsible for organising all expos.

“I was 14 and every morning the news was doing a piece on the Seattle Expo. And I said, ‘that’s cool, all this educational stuff’, because I’ve always been a collector of information, and I was always interested in maps,” said Mr Skiles, who is from California in the US.

“So, I told my parents ‘you’re taking me there this summer’. So, they took me up there and I had the greatest time running around taking my pictures and reading all the displays.”

Mr Skiles could not attend some of the subsequent expos due to financial constraints, but in 1974, aged 26, he attended Expo '74 Spokane, also in Washington state, followed by New Orleans in 1984.

From that point, Mr Skiles became something of a devotee, and has visited every single expo since – all 14 of them.

A few days ago he arrived in Dubai, with a plan to spend weeks exploring Expo 2020's pavilions and adding to his collection of souvenirs, which includes around 1,000 pins.

Visitors outside the UAE Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai. Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai

So far, his stand-out attraction is the UAE pavilion.

“That was fantastic. The sand – I had no idea the sand was so fine. And then they told me that out in the desert it’s all different colours,” said Mr Skiles.

He is also fascinated by Expo 2020s focus on environmental awareness, and the layout of the site, with its “artistic” floral shape, and petal-shaped districts.

He recommends a simple strategy to ensure no pavilion is missed.

“I need to do one section and finish that section before I go to the next one. I started on one ‘petal’, so I’m doing one ‘petal’ at a time,” said Mr Skiles, who plans to stay in Dubai until December.

“I started on the Opportunity District, then I’ll do the little green petal next – Sustainability – and then I’ll do the final petal, Mobility. I figure it will be a few days for each district.”

Expo Grandpa

Dubbed the “Expo Grandpa” by some, Mr Skiles is a great admirer of another world fair fan – Tomiyo Yamada from Japan who is known as the ‘Expo Grandma’, and has visited multiple expos.

However, he is yet to bump into her, despite carrying her picture, and looking for her at two expos.

“I just want to meet her, I’ve got to find her, I’m her biggest fan,” said Mr Skiles.

If they both keep travelling, then chances are they may bump into each other. Mr Skiles, for one, has no plans to stop, despite having already visited 76 countries.

“I am planning on seeing all the countries in the world. But in the meantime, I will see them at expos. I am booked until I’m 103,” he said.

Meet the expo superfan

Updated: November 22, 2021, 6:51 AM