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Dubai’s Expo 2020—3 of Your Questions Answered

Today, we look forward to next year and the 2020 World Expo in Dubai—the first ever to be held in the MENA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) region. With the promise of an Expo to ‘astonish the world’ by showcasing innovation, encouraging collaboration and celebrating human ingenuity, the six months between 20th October 2020 and 10th April 2021 is certainly shaping up to be a very exciting time in Dubai.


The theme of Expo 2020 Dubai is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” with the sub-themes of Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity. World Expos are festivals of inventiveness where big ideas and new technologies aimed at solving global problems are presented to the world. Innovators from across the globe have been invited to share their experiences and ideas about the future within a host of topics. These include—education and employment, financial models, exploration, transport and travel, improvements to mobility for the disabled and disconnected, logistics, environmental protections, climate change, biodiversity, resource management, sustainability and a variety of other challenges the world currently faces. 

With 192 countries having announced their participation, there appears to be a shared commitment to the vision of the Dubai Expo. Each country will occupy one of the pavilions within the 4.38sqkm Expo site, located in Dubai South next to Al Maktoum International Airport. The Expo is expected to attract around 25 million visits—triple the population of the UAE—70% of which are expected to come from abroad. It may well prove to be the biggest ever gathering of people in the Arab world.

The site itself will comprise large areas for open-air celebrations, including the Al Fursan and Jubilee Parks. It has been designed to resemble three petals connected to Al Wasl Plaza, the iconic centrepiece named after the historic name for Dubai, meaning ‘the connection’ while also representing the Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity themes. The Al Wasl Dome will serve as a giant 360-degree projection surface.


While only around 20% of countries so far have announced their pavilion plans, we do not have a complete run-down of the individual concepts. We do know that Canada plans to create a ‘wooden structure inspired by the vast Canadian landscape and referencing Middle Eastern architectural elements’ which will incorporate ideas of sustainability. We have also learned that the UK pavilion will consider the notion of opportunity by highlighting artificial intelligence and the space sector. 

The Philippines, also focusing on sustainability, is expected to demonstrate themselves as a creative and compassionate nation built around an awareness of connectivity and permeability, while the French pavilion is concerned with mobility and will explore light as an enabler of progress, a vehicle for connections and a source of heat and creativity. 


Organisers have been careful to ensure the concept of sustainability flows throughout the entire Expo ethos. Turning the desert into a green oasis sustainably is undoubtedly a huge undertaking when we reflect upon the fact that 42 percent of the UAE’s drinking water is obtained through desalination. The process has required a considerable connecting of minds to ensure there is indeed a prosperous future to be had. 

Close cooperation with the Dubai Municipality has helped Expo organisers create sustainable greenery through rationalised water consumption by adopting water consumption systems and arrangements for reusing different water sources, such as wastewater, air conditioning water, groundwater discharge, and seasonal surface water flows. Both the Al Fursan Park (accommodating 2,500 people) and the Jubilee Park (with a 15,000 capacity) are being decorated by plants that rely on drip irrigation techniques. 


Dubai has already established itself as an international business hub. It has also proven itself to be the foremost centre of finance for the region. Of course, hosting a World Fair is all about boosting international reputation and encouraging transnational business. Yet, it is expected that Expo 2020 Dubai will produce some not-insignificant financial opportunities locally. In fact, the economy is expected to benefit to the sum of AED 122.6bn (GBP 26.7bn) and support the equivalent of 49,700 full-time jobs a year. 

With a push to the ensure small and medium-sized enterprises—the core of the UAE economy—are at the forefront of its sustainability agenda, and with a central mission to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship to drive economic diversification, Expo 2020 has made it a goal to support SMEs. 

By introducing new initiatives to improve the ease of doing business for SMEs, such as speeding up payment clearing times, guaranteeing a 50% payment upfront when procuring goods (25% for services), and investing AED 4.7 billion during the pre-Expo phase, the UAE is demonstrating its business-minded policies to a wider audience. Coupled with reforms in visa and ownership legislation, and the relaxation of corporate fee, the UAE is signalling that it’s open for business. 

Monetarily speaking, the Expo is regarded in three parts—the seven-year build stage, the six-month fair, and a ten-year legacy period. Dubai authorities commissioned an impact assessment study which was conducted by consultancy firm EY, in which it was reported that the build stage would produce a gross value add (GVA) of AED 37.7bn to the economy, the Expo, while open to the public, would add a further AED 22.7bn in GVA, and, at the conclusion of the legacy period, as much as AED 62.2bn is anticipated to be generated as 80% of the Expo’s buildings and structures are incorporated into a new business zone, known as District 2020. With multinational companies such as Siemens and Accenture already signed up as tenants, the Expo is expected to produce sustainable growth and the fiscal stimulus to assist the UAE in further decoupling from oil via new growth drivers. 

In the meantime, the focus is on build completion and making the Expo 2020 Dubai a roaring success. Tickets go on sale in March of 2020 with an adult day pass slated to cost AED 120 (GBP 26) while a three-day ticket is expected to come in at AED 260 (GBP 56). Tickets for children up to six years of age, and seniors aged 65+ will be free while those for individuals aged six to 17 (and students of all ages) will receive a 50% discount.

As home to in excess of 200 nationalities made up of a youthful and skilled population, Dubai seems to be a fantastic setting for a World Expo showcasing innovation, encouraging collaboration and celebrating human ingenuity. We look forward to seeing you there. 

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