How will Expo 2020 affect the UAE?
ABU DHABI - Study any economic prospectus for the United Arab Emirates and one event will either be prominent or dominant — Expo 2020 Dubai, which, for the Gulf and beyond, could be a game changer.
The first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia, the numbers projected for Expo 2020 are staggering. More than 25 million visitors — the vast majority from outside the UAE — are expected during its run from October 20th, 2020, to April 10th, 2021, during the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates.
More than 200 countries, organisations, companies and institutions are to participate under the theme Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. Its site will span an area about 4km long and 1.8km wide. Infrastructure spending, including the expansion of Al Maktoum International Airport, runs into hundreds of millions of dollars.
If Expo 2020 Dubai’s purpose is to be “a festival of human ingenuity”, a forum for the advancement of ideas, a celebration of global connectivity and a catalyst for change, its impact will also be measured in clinical economic terms and organisers are adamant that its effects will be a lasting, directly and tangibly beneficial one.
But what will be the true legacy to its host and why should the people of the UAE and the Middle East in general embrace it?
“World Expos are global events dedicated to finding solutions to specific challenges facing humanity, by offering a journey inside the Expo theme through engaging and immersive activities,” said Vicente Loscertales, secretary-general of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the intergovernmental organisation charged with overseeing and regulating World Expos.
“Expos are transformative events for the host city and country, serving as catalysts for change in their preparation, execution and legacy. Among mega-events, World Expos attract more visitors than any other — over 20 million people visited Expo 2015 in Milan, and Expo 2010 Shanghai attracted a record 73 million visitors.
“This offers the host city a major opportunity to improve its infrastructure, regain and develop land and engage citizens around a global issue facing humanity,” Loscertales said.
The “significant economic benefits” associated with hosting a World Expo, according to Loscertales, include its role as a springboard for new industries and talents and the opportunity and impetus it provides for infrastructure development and creating or revitalising urban areas.
“Through construction, planning, tourism and the development of new industries, Expos lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs and spur regional development,” he said.
“Under BIE rules, organisers must consider the legacy of an Expo during the planning phase to ensure that the host city enjoys the benefits of the Expo many years after it has closed.
“In Dubai, the site has already been earmarked to host a research and academic institutions, an exhibition centre and a technological cluster.”
Robin Teh, country manager in the UAE and director of valuation in the Middle East and North Africa region for international residential property specialist Chestertons, said Expo 2020 Dubai will energise the emirate’s real estate market.
“It will be given a large shot of investment, as there will be global interest in all sectors of real estate,” he said. “More services will be needed, more people needed to provide services, new industries created — all contributing to growth and demand. We expect to see a continued rise in real estate prices as demand picks up leading to Expo 2020 Dubai, starting as the current year ends.”
Teh said the huge and expensive capital projects being constructed in preparation for the event — the Dubai Canal, Al Maktoum airport, Dubai Creek developments and the restarting of the Bawadi project, which includes amusement parks, hotel, commercial and residential buildings, in Dubailand — will retain their value to the emirate long after the Expo has ended.
For Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive officer of souqalmal.com, Expo 2020 will “invigorate” the UAE economy in several ways. “First, it will create more employment opportunities, and second, it will boost the tourism sector,” she said.
“[Small and medium-sized enterprises] in Dubai, especially those operating in the travel and tourism, logistics, retail and wholesale sectors, are also expected to gain from the international exposure that the Expo will provide. Looking at examples of previous World Expos, it is evident that the Dubai economy stands to benefit not only in the short-term, but long-term as well.”