DUBAI 2021 – EXPO 2020
Expo 2020 is the greatest global event to have taken place since the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has rekindled optimism for the global meetings industry. Expo has showcased that even global mega-events can be organised safely and responsibly in person or virtually at virtualexpodubai.com and Live@Expo. By the end of our visit at the end of November, Expo had already been visited by 4.8 million visitors. The majority of them came from India, Germany, France and the Middle East. Expo’s hybrid execution made it possible for over 25 million virtual visitors to view the global exhibition.
According to official information from Reuters, the cost of organisation of such a mega-event will amount to 5.74 billion euros. However, just the 25 million live visitors are expected to create enough multiplicative effects to make the investment justifiable. A record 192 countries are presenting themselves at Expo, and for the first time in history, each country has its own pavilion. Another first is the number of African pavilions on display. If you desire, you can visit all pavilions with a yellow passport and collect stamps that will serve as a unique souvenir.
The opening ceremony of the most renowned event since the pandemic started is the magnum opus of Franco Dragone, the creative director of the spectacular Cirque du Soleil productions, and Scott Givens, the executive director of Five Currents, famed for organising Olympic Games celebrations from London to Sochi. The opening, abundant with unrivalled acts, played host to the Italian opera tenor Andrea Boccelli, American singer and actor Andra Day, British singer Ellie Goulding and Chinese pianist, Lang Andre.
I had the privilege of visiting the World Expo at the end of November 2021. The waterfall, pouring over the imposing water amphitheatre, had me marvelling at the spectacular scenery at first sight. According to the organisers, the entire installation is designed along environmentally friendly lines and follows one of the main topics of this year’s Expo – Sustainable development and water. Both themes are omnipresent throughout the exhibition pavilions.
The sustainable organisation is evidently an omen that Dubai’s former desert suburb will, following the event, transform into a high-tech development centre for start-ups and rapidly growing companies, dubbed District 2020. The organisers have aptly dubbed it the human-centric future city. It shall span four square kilometres or twice the size of Monaco. Some 80% of Expo’s infrastructure will be re-purposed for the project. Hence, individual exhibitions on mobility, sustainability and opportunity are seen as a manifesto and a map for smart cities of the future. In District 2020, everything will be reachable in 15 minutes, while the well-being and health of its inhabitants will be top priorities. The organisers expect start-up companies to be at the forefront of acquiring business space. A purpose-built new metro line, set to become the transport backbone of the new city, will connect Expo with the heart of Dubai. An integral role within District 2020 will be played by Dubai Exhibition Centre, currently serving as the venue of choice for numerous accompanying events and conferences during Expo. It offers 45,000 m2 of exhibition space in two exhibition complexes, with the South Complex offering 28,000 m2, dividable into nine halls. The North Complex is equally flexible, and its 17,000 m2 can be divided into five halls. Alongside the two main halls, event organisers can choose from 24 smaller congress halls. The complex is managed by the Dubai World Trade Centre, which has rich experience in organising world-class events.
For the first time in Expo’s history, the exhibitions are arranged according to content and not regions. In my earnest opinion, this is an effective and well-thought-out solution. I recommend that you familiarise yourself with the key topics of mobility, sustainability and opportunity in the central pavilions that focus on these topics. The Terra Pavilion, designed by the British architectural bureau Grimshaw Architects, was fittingly awarded the LEED Platinum certificate. It will take you on a journey through the history of relations between humanity and nature, whilst emphasising the importance of forests and subtly sharing tips on how to live sustainably. The solar panels on the pavilion roof and energetic trees produce 4GWh of electric energy per annum. The Alif Pavilion or the Mobility Pavilion, on the other hand, shines a light on mobility as the key to humanity’s advancement. It also toys with the idea of humankind’s travel and living on Mars. A large part of the pavilion’s story is devoted to smart cities. Alif Pavilion is the showpiece of Foster + Partners architectural bureau, which designed one of the most iconic buildings of Expo 2020. Mission Possible, or the Opportunity Pavilion, points out the tiny measures we can take to end poverty, preserve our planet and ensure peace and prosperity. You will be guided by Mariam, Abel and Mama Fatma as you make your way through the exhibition. Designed by Agi Architects, this memorable pavilion serves as an intergenerational agora.
A bustling hub for countless visitors
Emblematic of the event’s dimensions is information from behind the scenes of the organisation. Every day, Expo becomes a bustling hub for 20,000 to 35,000 employees from 68 countries and countless visitors. Over 30,000 kind-hearted volunteers participating at Expo 2020 will be remembered by most as excellent event ambassadors. According to official information, the event will create 277,249 jobs, the majority in the tourism sector. Expo 2020’s gastronomic offer is diverse and includes 200 restaurants that serve up to half a million dishes on peak days. An integral part is also the VIP hospitality that one can find in Club 2020. If you wish to be in the thick of it, you can opt to stay at the funky Rove Hotel that offers 312 rooms and 19 suites. The youthful hotel chain is owned by the investment company Emaar Properties.
The event is also outstanding from a technical point of view. All event organisers should see one of the evening projections inside the Al Wasl Plaza. The name of the Plaza is the former name of Dubai and the space represents Expo’s main square. The 360-degree dome boasts the largest projection screen in the world, covering an area the size of 16 tennis courts, whilst the multimedia is a technical marvel. You will come across similar ones across the whole of Expo 2020, where the latest technology in LED screens and projections is on display. Altogether, event organisers will find the event a remarkable experience.
I had the privilege to visit all the main regional pavilions. Among them, the Serbian, Slovenian and Czech pavilions astonished me the most. Slovenia’s green pavilion extends over almost 1600 square metres and, in my opinion, proudly represents our country. To obtain a comprehensive overview, one would need at least two whole days exclusively for the world exhibition. Among the national pavilions, one can find those that feature unique architectural designs and those that hide intriguing stories. The most beguiling pavilions are the ones that combine the best of both. In any case, decide what you are most interested in beforehand, and then visit. The internet is teeming with must-see lists that can be of assistance before attending.
The United Arab Emirates will cherish the permanent and glorious memory of “their” Expo. The venue of the Dubai World Expo will be survived by Al Wasl Plaza – the largest unsupported dome in the world that will be a reminder of this remarkable and, in many ways, avant-garde world exhibition.