Expo 2020 Dubai is proving a massive online hit with tens of millions of virtual visits racked up from across the world, thanks to a packed line-up of international pavilions, colourful parades and star-studded musical performances.
Expo organisers on Tuesday said virtualexpodubai.com had recorded more than 31 million visits since the extravaganza opened on October 1.
The sprawling Expo site itself has already attracted more than 6 million visits, with the impressive footfall backed up by the event's online connection with the world.
The dazzling opening ceremony raked in the highest views at 6 million.
More than 3 million viewed Alicia Keys' concert this month as she debuted her new double album, Keys.
It was the best night for viewership after the opening ceremony with people keen for a first glimpse of the new songs.
Residents of Lesotho, a small mountainous nation in Africa, paid close attention to their king’s visit in October.
More than 45,000 logged in for Lesotho’s country day, the highest yet, celebrated at the Al Wasl dome.
National pride on display
Country pavilions attracting the highest online traffic are Australia followed by Japan, India, China and Brazil.
The Expo tech team adds entertainment events online daily, give visitors a 360-degree view of country pavilions and adds gaming to draw in the youth.
Virtual visits clock in at more than 31.6 million and are driven by live tours.
“It has been a phenomenal journey,” said Rehan Asad, Expo’s chief programme officer.
“We look into analytics on a daily basis.
“We understand what people like and what they do not like and adapt to that.”
Africa’s kingdom in the Sky checks in
Lesotho, a country with a population of only 2.1 million, set a record for the numbers that viewed a country day ceremony online.
People continued to watch as their King Letsie III toured the country pavilion with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
Lesotho officials shared an Expo link resulting in 45,232 people watching the National Day from afar.
“Until today, Lesotho’s National Day is one of the most visited,” Mr Asad said.
Located on a highland plateau and surrounded by South Africa, the country has the title of Africa’s Kingdom in the sky as the only nation entirely above 1,000 metres in elevation.
Favourite country pavilions
Step-by-step tours give people a close-up view inside each pavilion. The Expo team partnered with Google to bring the experience to life.
Australia is the most visited pavilion virtually followed by Japan, India, China, Brazil, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, South Korea, Germany, Philippine and the UK.
The top 10 countries that drive online viewership are the UAE, India, Philippines, Egypt, US, Saudi, Indonesia UK, Italy and Japan.
“What is encouraging is that it’s not all in this region or the West,” Mr Asad said.
“It’s from technologically advanced countries but also countries that are not. That is the true spirit of Expo.”
Eyes of the world on Expo
Organisers said new users account for 70 per cent of those clocking in every week.
“Normally when you launch a new website you don’t see new users but we have seen this from day one,” said Mr Asad, who has worked in the technology industry for 25 years.
The viewership base moved from 65 per cent male and 35 per cent female to the current ratio of 50.1 per cent female and 49.9 per cent male.
About 80 per cent traffic is from mobile phones, 10 per cent from desktops and 5 per cent from tablets and other devices.
More than 1 million children play animation games. The Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity pavilions include games where children can learn while they play.
The entire Expo site has been re-created on the popular Minecraft platform with more than half a million people downloading the Expo 2020 app.
Did Covid-19 make the Expo go virtual?
The digital experience was not dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic but was part of the mission plan way back in 2012.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, made a commitment in 2012 to take the first virtual Expo to the world and this was included in the 2013 bid document.
“What is remarkable is making that commitment in 2012 when technology was in a different place,” Mr Asad said.
“We worked on that promise and designed it so that children from North America, Africa, Asia or Europe feel as mesmerised when they log in on their devices as when children from Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Sharjah physically walk into site and get mesmerised.”