In Depth: What to expect from Dubai Expo 2020


After winning over fierce competition from the cities of Sao Paolo, Yekaterinburg, and Izmir, Dubai was selected to host the World Expo 2020. This is the world’s largest exhibition of its kind and it is expected to attract tens of millions visitors to the UAE over the course of six months. But experts also predict that the fair will be a powerful boost to the economy, bringing billions dirhams of revenue, driving several industry sectors and generating thousands of employment opportunities. So, how will the world fair affect the city and the region? What will be the long-term outcome from the Dubai Expo 2020? Let us take a look back at the world expo origin and its development over the years.

In France, there has always been a tradition of having national exhibitions, but the arrival of the Industrial Revolution has made it possible for the organizing the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 in Paris. Other national exhibitions across Europe followed, including in the UK, where the first officially recognized world’s fair was held in 1851. Conducted in the Crystal Palace (specially designed pavilion made of steel and glass curtain) in Hyde Park, London, the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” was the first international exhibition dedicated to the manufactured products and the latest engineer achievements. It ran for 160 days, attracting 6.3 million visitors and setting up the first era of world fairs – the industrialization era. We are talking here still about a century ago.

Paris ExpoThe other significant expo was the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, which followed the steps of the previous technology-centered expos. However, everything then was in much larger scale – one-of-a-kind expo. Called “The Evaluation of the Century”, the event displayed all technological achievements of the 19th century in Art Nouveau style – the Russian nesting dolls, Rudolf Diesel’s diesel engine running on peanut oil, the largest refracting telescope of the that time, Grande Roue de Paris Ferris wheel, the talking films, escalators and even the telegraphone, which basically recorded sounds. Medals were awarded by a special commission, led by Gustave Eiffel. Overall, the event was one of the greatest and certainly the largest that humanity have seen, as it attracted nearly 50 million people in the era when travelers have not yet heard of flights. But one of the most startling facts about the 1900 world’s fair is that many of the buildings and pavilions, constructed during the expo, including several palaces, were demolished.

The 1933 Chicago Expo was the other important exposition – 38.3 million people attended and for the first time in history, the world’s fair was given a theme, “Century of Progress”. The 1939-40 New York World’s Fair was the expo, marking a new era, where from then on, fairs were given specific cultural themes. They weren’t centered on technological progress; rather they focused on the human society, its development and the intercultural communication. The 1988 Expo in Brisbane showed another aspect of world expositions – they were used as platforms for advertising national images, Nation branding was now the most important purpose of the expo. This is very much likely to be the core concept also of the Dubai Expo 2020.

Today, we can look at the aftermath of world’s fairs and say for certain, that despite of the incredible investments they require and the big financial losses of hosting cities, world expos are worth the risk. Some of the most famous towers, buildings and inventions in the world originate from the universal expositions – the Eiffel Tower, the iconic Space Needle and Monorail in Seattle, the Japanese Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate P, and many, many others.

However, the huge interest for the world’s expos showed in the past has already gone. In the short term, cities, countries and investors lose lots of money, but eventually, the investments seem to pay off in the long run. Expo 2010 Shanghai was the first held in the tradition of international expos since 1992. The city spent nearly 12 billion yuan operating costs, which made it the most expensive expo ever, but still could make a profit of more than 1 billion yuan or $157 million. The total budget was 18 billion yuan, and the total revenue – 13.014 billion yuan. And this is the highest attendance ever recorded – more than 73 million people for six months, a single-day record of over 1.03 million visitors.

Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to create nearly 280,000 jobs between 2013 and 2021. Experts also predict 25 million unique visitors and up to 33 million people to see the exhibition over the six-month period. Although the world’s fair is no longer the place to see all technological achievements of your time, it is the place that gathers all inventions and achievements from all aspects of our life – science and technology, art and culture, ecology and the human being. It is indeed one of the most exciting events one can attend to in a lifetime, so for certain, it will attract millions although we can’t be certain about the numbers yet. In fact, the expo may have a even a greater attendance than what’s estimated. Whether it brings financial gain or loss to Dubai, World Expo 2020 will boost the international image of the emirate and in the long-term, it will mean great benefit for the city and the whole region, as well.


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