While Expo 2020 Dubai may have drawn the curtains on six months of live events and cultural celebrations, it has left behind a powerful legacy for the emirate, the UAE and all nations that participated in the Middle East's first World Expo.
- Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman, Rotana
Since the first World Expo – known then as the Great Exhibition – took place in London in 1851, the international fair has been a hub for inspiration, showcasing humankind's ingenuity, ambition and entrepreneurship. The formula was an instant success, leading to its recurrence every five years across the globe – for the last 170 years.
In 2013, Dubai won the right to host the first World Expo on Middle Eastern soil. The emirate trumped rival bids following a successful campaign that culminated in victory, with scenes of jubilation felt across the entire country. And in the lead up to the event, the landscape of the nation has drastically transformed.
Though Expo 2020 Dubai was pushed back one year due to the pandemic, it opened during the UAE’s landmark golden jubilee year in 2021, a cause for celebration befitting of such a global event. The UAE’s presence on the world stage was cemented by the event bringing almost 200 country pavilions to the world’s greatest show, to showcase innovation, culture and a theme of togetherness.
Held in the midst of a global pandemic, the success of Expo is undoubted. It was executed with utmost safety and security and the necessary health precautions in place. Thus, it enabled the millions of visitors coming through its doors every day to enjoy this high-tech marvel – where robots guided the way or delivered coffee – with complete peace of mind. PCR testing on-site and state-of-the-art security meant the event ran without a hitch, in spite of the logistics of handling millions of visitors from all over the world alongside dozens of heads of state, celebrities as well as international and local royalty.
It set an example for local, regional and global events to operate safely, even amid a global health crisis. Such was its success that in the six months that passed from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, Expo 2020 Dubai recorded 24,102,967 visits from residents and international visitors combined. And the timing couldn't have been more ideal. With the global travel and tourism sector now on the road to recovery following the pandemic, the event saw tourism in the Middle East rebound faster than expected.
But moving forward, the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai is what will now take the country into its next 50 years as the site transforms into a smart 15-minute city: District 2020.
There will still be many reasons to return to the site in Dubai South, which is an architectural marvel in itself. Whether visiting for work or for pleasure, there will be much to discover. In spite of the event having officially closed its doors, a leisurely visit to the site can still be on the cards, thanks to several attractions that are set to continue. This means that visitors can still run up the walls of the Water Feature or walk under the world’s largest projection dome.
But the highlight remains the model for the cities of the future! District 2020 is already preparing for its first residents to move in, both business and residential, during the course of 2022.
District 2020 is also on track to become a mini start-up nation within one of the world’s most innovative countries. Hundreds of start-ups and small businesses from around the world are now competing for one of 80 spots available at the innovation hub, which opens officially in October 2022. The 4.4 square-kilometre site will be repurposed to host 145,000 residents and workers, with SMEs and multinational corporations, such as Siemens, setting up operations and even international headquarters in the mixed-use neighbourhood.
The area will also become a conference capital, with Dubai Exhibition Centre set to be the city’s new World Trade Centre hosting international fairs and events. Entertainment will remain a core feature within the district, with key areas such as Al Wasl Plaza perfectly positioned to host outdoor events and concerts.
What was once the Sustainability Pavilion will now become an educational hub as it is repurposed into a children’s centre and science zone. This means that the next generation will find constant inspiration within its halls as they take on the role of builders of District 2020’s – and by extension, the UAE's – future.
In keeping with the district’s sustainable ethos, plans are in place to develop pathways for self-driving vehicle zones. And with a healthy lifestyle as the cornerstone of the community, the network of walking paths, cycling and jogging tracks is now being extended.
As is the case with any event of such calibre, there were many lessons to be learnt along the way – lessons we will carry with us as we continue on this fascinating growth trajectory for the UAE.
One of the biggest takeaways is that even in the face of extreme adversity, and no matter what uncertainties we may face, when we get together, we can overcome anything. And Expo's success reiterated this message, instilling hope that the future is, indeed, very bright. As an oasis of innovation, creativity and opportunity, it inspired every visitor to take home a meaningful experience and contribute to the world in positive ways.
Most of all, it underlined that when people from all walks of life come together, the result is anything but ordinary. A shining example of inclusion, Expo 2020 Dubai brought together people from different backgrounds to create something so remarkable that the legacy still lives on.
The event may have ended, but the world's sights continue to be firmly fixed on the country as Dubai and the UAE take yet another pioneering and unimaginable leap into the future, in this land where truly nothing is impossible.