Expo 2020 Dubai thrills the world with a send-off to remember

A stunning closing ceremony to end the world's fair looked to the future with optimism

Powered by automated translation

As an ending it was as spectacular as the beginning, with a message that Dubai’s welcome to the world does not finish with Expo 2020.

The city gave the world's fair a send-off to remember with a stunning closing ceremony on Thursday night.

After 182 days of festivities, the curtain came down before an audience of tens of thousands — and a global viewership of millions.

Today is not the end of Expo 2020 but a new beginning
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

At the closing finale, the audience continued on a metaphorical journey, led by a young actress, Mira Singh, that they first began on a humid night on September 30, 2021.

With only a brief nod to the past, the audience was thrust into the future with optimism amid strife and conflict around the globe.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said in a recorded voiceover: "Today is not the end of Expo 2020 but a new beginning."

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner-General of Expo 2020 Dubai echoed that by saying: “Endings are new beginnings; this is how we envision paths for many achievements to come."

A performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 'From the New World' drew a rousing applause from the crowd.

The show included performances from singer Norah Jones and pop star Christina Aguilera. All three will play concerts later in the evening.

Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris, which since 1928 has overseen the world's fair, said Dubai had thrown everything into the effort to make the event a success.

“It’s clear that we have set a new bar here — it’s something I believe [Expo 2025 Osaka] will look to aspire to,” Mr Kerkentzes said on the final day.

“Every Expo is different, but you have to think of what has been achieved here. This is something that we will think about for many, many years to come — to have some kind of strong impact on the future.”

Expo made the world a little bit bigger

If the coronavirus pandemic made the world a smaller place, Expo made it a little bigger for people unable to travel as they once had.

They sampled South Korean noodles, were told of Germany's plans for a greener world, and learnt how Africa's nations are harnessing technology at a dramatic pace.

From Pakistani rock to Filipino pop, bands flew in from the four corners of the world to play at Jubilee Park.

In a city in which every nationality was represented, there was still novelty in hearing a dizzying blend of Mongolian, Chinese, Albanian, Finnish, Shona, not to mention the languages of little-known Polynesian islands — all spoken in a square block.

The prospect of a final glimpse of the fair, which is the size of 600 football fields, led many people to take a day off work. Thousands of children on their spring break school holidays were among the crowds.

Visitor numbers edge towards target

Some moments that made Expo

Some moments that made Expo

Final visitor numbers will not be released for several days. But the event is known to have inched close to hitting its target of 25 million visits. In the space of three days last week, a million gate entrances were recorded.

Although most of Dubai's coronavirus restrictions had eased by October 1, 2021, lockdowns in Europe, Asia and elsewhere made for a quiet opening three months.

By late December, nine million visits had been recorded.

But officials said from the start, based on research and testimony from world fair authority Bureau International des Expositions, that the second half would be busier.

As of Sunday, March 29, there had been 23 million gate entrances. Expo counts visits rather than visitors, and says many are repeat customers.

Fans loved every minute

Expo captured the imagination of many visitors, with some returning time and time again to see more, ticking off the countries with stamps in the famous yellow passport.

Tanmayi Kamath and her son Reyaansh Pai are Expo super fans. They visited every weekend since January and took in every one of the 192 country pavilions. They also visited pavilions such as DP World and Vision, taking that number to 215.

She said: “We visited the first time in November and we were just overwhelmed. Every time we visited it we fell in love with it a little bit more.

“I love to travel, so for me it was a place to see many countries and see their cultures in one place.

“I got to meet a lot of people, I got to taste a lot of cuisines.

“We've just loved it.”

What next for the Expo site?

While many of the large pavilions will be packed up or pulled down in the coming months, a significant number of the buildings will remain in an area called District 2020.

The structures around Al Wasl Plaza dome will remain, as will the lattice centrepiece itself, and others such as the Rove hotel.

Spreading out from that, the concrete low-rise towers that housed many of the smaller country pavilions will be transformed into workspaces and offices for 85 start-up companies. By October, a number of them will have moved into the site.

There are further plans to transform the upper floors of those buildings into loft-style apartments, while 2,800 residences in the Expo staff village will be rented out.

Officials say the public will be able to visit the legacy site freely — even though it will take on a different form as a 15-minute city, and a living and working suburb of Dubai.

Al Wasl Plaza, in particular, has a future as an exhibition or concert space.

“Al Wasl became an icon,” Tareq Ghosheh, Dubai Expo 2020 chief events and entertainment officer, told The National.

He would not reveal precise future plans for the site, which hosted a concert by pop stars Coldplay, but said the public would see it in all its glory again soon.

“This is a one-of-a-kind venue that not too many places will have, or will ever have,” he said.

“Al Wasl has its own plans, the district has plans and it will fit into the bigger plans of Dubai.”

Updated: June 08, 2023, 7:18 AM