Expo 2020 Dubai fans enjoy tours of empty site weeks after closing ceremony

Guests at Dubai's Rove Expo 2020 hotel given chance to explore parts of the sprawling site once more

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Expo 2020 Dubai fans eager to relive the magic of the world's fair are enjoying tours of a near-empty site, weeks on from the spectacular closing ceremony.

Guests at the Rove Expo 2020 hotel are relishing the opportunity to roam sections of the vast area when they check in for a stay.

Expo closed on March 31 and work is now under way to transform it into District 2020, which will welcome the first of 85 start-up companies from October as part of legacy plans.

The hotel chain said it aimed to help guests “revisit some of their best memories” from the mega event.

“Rove Hotels is proud to keep the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai alive. The event was a massive success for the city and the UAE and as a home-grown brand, we are very excited to be part of the site’s transformation into Dubai’s newest neighbourhood, District 2020, where it will be the first operational hotel,” said Rove's chief operating officer, Paul Bridger.

“Rove Expo 2020 was envisioned as a base camp at the heart of the event. Now the hotel remains equally well-positioned to serve Rovers [guests] who want to explore the site and experience it in a whole new way.

“Guests staying will have a chance to walk around the iconic venue and revisit some of their best memories from the event.”

The famous Expo 2020 Dubai water feature (left) remains covered for now. Photos: Chris Tan / Expo 2020 Dubai

Emotional return for Expo enthusiast

Rose Ibanez got more than she bargained for when she booked herself into the Rove on April 5 and 17, paying Dh199 a night for her room.

The Expo super fan was happy to get a glimpse of the site from her hotel room, not expecting a private tour of her “favourite place on earth".

Hotel staff drove the mother-of-two around the world’s fair, allowing her to view the impressive pavilions without the usual crowds of people.

She said walking through the gates of Expo with her two sons for the first time since it closed its doors to the public was extremely emotional.

“My eyes welled up. As I walked towards the hotel I could see all these signs saying ‘the gates are closed but the memories will remain until we meet again' and I just got so emotional,” said Ms Ibanez, a logistics specialist from the Philippines.

“To say I loved Expo is an understatement. When the entrance gate staff asked to see my hotel booking, I joked and showed them my season pass too, I really miss the buzz of Expo.

“I attended the opening ceremony, spent Christmas there, went nearly every day in February and March, and bid an emotional farewell to it on the closing night.

“I felt so attached to the place, so to be able to see it before it transitions to District 2020 has been such a unique experience. I will be back.”

From taking in the sites of an empty Al Wasl Dome to walking in and out of the quiet alleyways of the country pavilions, Ms Ibanez said even after countless visits during the six-month fair, her latest walkabout opened her eyes to things she didn’t notice before.

Benches once filled with people lay empty and patches of green that adorned many a family picnic remained untouched.

Rose Ibanez booked a room at Rove Hotel at Expo and ended up getting a tour of the now-closed site.

“The benches are actually designed in Arabic calligraphy. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t, I guess I was just too busy to notice before,” she said.

“As I was walking around the empty site I did miss the crowds, the atmosphere and oddly enough, the long queues, but I came to appreciate the little things that I missed before.

“Seeing the architecture of the large pavilions up close, enjoying the fragrance of the flowers planted around the site, touring Expo in near silence, it was an experience I won’t forget.

“I was hesitant to see the site change from a place that holds great memories to District 2020, but now, because I have had the chance to see it like this, I feel like I have been part of the transition.”

During her several visits this month Ms Ibanez said she was surprised to see all the pavilions still standing, however several had scaffolding on the exterior in preparation for being dismantled.

While some of the areas remain fenced off, she said the majority of Expo is still accessible by foot and staff continue to clean and maintain the site.

'Expoholic' relishes return trip

Chris Tan, a self-proclaimed “expoholic” also visited the now-closed Expo site last week, after checking into the Rove Hotel.

He said touring the area on a bike without the usual busy crowds was a “surreal and an amazing experience”

“I didn’t expect much from the stay but it was very close to the good old days of Expo,” he said.

“I had the opportunity to appreciate the greenery, Zen and the attention to detail [at Expo], including the calligraphy benches, water fountains and so much more.

“It was post-Expo magic.”

Throughout the decommissioning of Expo 2020 Dubai, the Rove Hotel will remain open, and for now, guests staying at the property can roam the non-fenced off areas until midnight.

Expo Village — in pictures

Updated: April 20, 2022, 8:58 AM
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