What is Dubai Expo 2020?

You might have heard the term, but what really is EXPO?

Expos are global events whose dedication is for finding solutions to fundamental challenges humanity faces. These events offer a journey inside a theme by engaging and immersive activities for their audience. Organised and facilitated by governments and bringing together countries and international organisations (Official Participants), these major public events are unique in their ability to gather millions of visitors, create new dynamics and catalyze change in their host cities.

from https://www.bie-paris.org/site/en/what-is-an-expo


Expos bring the world together in a grand and common project to find solutions to a fundamental challenge facing humanity. The Expo’s theme addresses this challenge and acts as a springboard for what participants will showcase and how they organize the intellectual and cultural events. In the spirit of education and communication, shared concern based on the Expo’s theme encourages international participants to exchange ideas and best practices, to come up with solutions and to develop new forms of cooperation in a non-confrontational setting. The intellectual legacy of Expos, which often comes in the form of a policy document or manifesto, is a result of the dialogue, action and innovation presented and exchanged during the event, demonstrating the role of Expos in public diplomacy.

How does it benefit the participants?

Participating in an Expo allows countries to create a fleeting miniature world, a microcosm of global progress and dialogue. Expos provide a unique and international stage to engage in cultural diplomacy and interact with the host country, other participants, potential tourists, trade partners and investors. Through pavilions or dedicated spaces, each country projects itself to large, captive and diverse audiences, creating a global village that offers an unprecedented experience to visitors and participants alike.

Important: 192 countries confirmed to be participating in Dubai Expo 2020, by April 2019.

Dubai Expo 2020 logo

Dubai Expo 2020 will be held for six months starting on October 20

Dubai for 2020:

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is responsible for organizing Expos around the world, and in 2011, Dubai and the UAE became a candidate city of the bid process to host World Expo 2020. In November 2013, Dubai received the hosting award. The exposition is going to be maximum six months long, opening on October 20, 2020 and closing on April 10, 2021.

The main site of Expo Dubai 2020 will be a 438-hectare area (1083 acres) located between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, near Dubai’s western border with Abu Dhabi. The master plan, designed by the American firm HOK, is organized around a central plaza, entitled Al Wasl, enclosed by three large Thematic districts. Each one accommodates one of the sub-themes of Expo 2020.

Dubai has also been emphasizing on investments in various sectors such as economic growth, real estate, environmental avenues and public affairs. In recent times, Dubai has made major investments in Real Estate, as well as introduced a world’s largest solar power project which is all set to start by Expo 2020. Apart from pumping money, the nation is also keen on giving equal prominence to public relationships. The initiative – Dubai Happiness Agenda, has 16 programs under four themes that sums up 82 projects to be set in the city with an aim to make the city the happiest by 2020. The Dubai Expo 2020 also would see a rise in the GPD as predicted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Dubai Expo 2020 - District 2020 maquette - Sterling Property Advisors

Dubai Expo 2020 – District 2020 maquette

The Themes:

The theme chosen for Dubai Expo 2020 is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and three sub-themes – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. With all these themes, Dubai Expo 2020 aims to unlock the potential of each visitor while encouraging collaboration and presenting opportunities for all to make a difference towards the future development of humanity.

It is based on the belief that sharing innovative ideas and building partnerships will inspire the way we shape our future in the most positive way possible. To this end, Expo 2020 Dubai will work towards enabling new Opportunities for individuals and communities to help them achieve their needs and inspire them to pursue their future aspirations (aligning with the global vision of the UN SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals).

Expo 2020 Dubai will focus on providing easier access to knowledge, markets and innovation. It does it by working on solutions and technologies that will facilitate the movement (mobility) of people, goods and ideas. It will also strive to protect and preserve the environment for future generations by sharing sustainable solutions and practices that are feasible and can be adapted globally (Sustainability).

Property and Investment:

Following falling property prices, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum, announced slowing down construction to avoid the risk of property prices overtaking its demand.

But, they have high hopes in the big event. Danny Lubert, co-founder and joint chairman of The First Group says: “This is a really exciting time for investors in Dubai’s hotel industry, given the soaring numbers of visitors that are predicted to come to the city for the World Expo 2020”. “Over the next few years in the run up to the event, we are likely to see a big rise in demand for hotel property. The World Expo will only serve to strengthen Dubai’s standing as the world’s most vibrant hotel market. There has really never been a better time to invest in Dubai. We are urging people to invest now, before prices become too much of a premium.”

A boom in the Economy:

The estimations show that the World Expo 2020 would boost Dubai’s economy by a staggering $23 billion, amounting to 24.4% of overall GDP and the creation of over 277,000 jobs. According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, this would also serve to boost GDP by 2% between 2020 and 2021. While over 14.9 million people visited Dubai in 2016, officials forecast that 17.5 million could flock to the city during the six months of the World Expo alone; this opportunity will provide a massive boost to the city’s tourism and hotel industry. Last year, Dubai’s hotels recorded an impressive 2.7% year on year hike. With the World Expo in town, these figures already promise to be even more lucrative.

However, the UEA believes that Expo 2020 Dubai is a long-term investment; in the future of the country, this investment will boost the economy by US$33.4 billion and support 905,200 jobs, by the end of 2031.


Dubai Expo 2020 – the real estate show is going to help the economy of the UAE

But, according to Forbes, the $33 billion question remains: Can Dubai Make A Success Of Expo 2020?

Ahmed Al Khatib, senior vice-president for real estate at Expo 2020, is responsible for the construction of the site. He believes that this event, as the first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, with 25 million visitors expected to attend, will bring the UAE an estimated economic boost of US$34.5 billion.

“This is a very complex project,” says Al Khatib at an interview with Open Skies Magazine. “We are building a city. Right now we are at around 7,000 workers on site and we are expecting to reach around 37,000. Then there’s the equipment, the lay down areas, the access roads, the food (how to feed everybody on site), the waste management. It will become more and more challenging as the countries start coming in. But we are taking all measures to make sure this is a very smooth and easy experience. The infrastructure and the power in any development are the most critical items and we are actually finishing them ahead of time.”

The 150-meter wide, 69-meter tall domed Al Wasl Plaza houses more than 180 individual country pavilions. There are also separate themed pavilions, including the Santiago Calatrava-designed UAE pavilion, modeled on the wings of a falcon; London-based Foster + Partners’ tiered trefoil-shaped Mobility pavilion; and Grimshaw Architects’ Sustainability pavilion. The latter will be able to capture energy from the sun and fresh water from humid air.

All of this comes at a price of course. This year US$3.1 billion in Expo contracts will be awarded, including the US$600 million contract won by Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Carillion earlier this year.

Evidently, all the figures are promising a big success for the Expo 2020.

But, what will happen after the event?

Marjan Faraidooni, senior vice-president for legacy development at Expo 2020 says that after the event, 80% of the buildings will be incorporated into a new business zone called District 2020. Here are a few examples:

  • the Sustainability Pavilion will become a science exploratorium
  • the Conference and Exhibition Campus will become a major event and exhibition space
  • the Mobility pavilion will become high-end office space.

All will form part of what will be known as District 2020. Being a multi-purpose development, District 2020 is to contribute to the UAE’s drive towards a knowledge-based economy. When transitioned to District 2020 (which will take an estimated six months after the event), the Expo site will include

  • 65,000 square meters of residential space
  • 135,000 square meters of commercial space
  • world-class innovation, educational, cultural and entertainment facilities, all with the idea of creating a destination to ‘connect, create and innovate’.

“The market is going to know that we’re not going to die after Expo 2020, that the city’s going to continue to live. That’s one of the biggest portions of the legacy.” says Faraidooni at an interview with the Open Skies Magazine.

Whether the economic predictions prove accurate will depend on a large extent on how realistic some of the assumptions made by EY (Ernst & Young) prove to be. Among other things, there are predictions that 90% of the event’s operation expenditure and 95% of its capital expenditure is incurred in the UAE. After the main event is over, EY has assumed the DEC will attract 1.6 million visitors a year; this number includes 1.1 million overseas visitors staying for an average of 5 days. In addition, it is assumed that all Expo 2020 assets will be sold off by the end of the fair.

Challenges of the Legacy:

Recently, the sluggish performance of some parts of the Dubai economy has made a lot of potential investors hesitant. Presently, they are considering the risks and unclear future of the country’s economical situation.

One risk for Dubai is of overbuilding for the Expo; this could have a knock-on effect for the emirate’s government-related entities (GREs) and their ability to repay the large amounts of debts they owe. Capital Economics says those debts amount to $60bn, equal to 50% of Dubai’s GDP.