THE electronic clock counting down in the lobby of the Expo 2020 Dubai offices is a constant reminder that in just two years’ time the biggest event to be staged in the Middle East will open its doors – and the world is invited.
With the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, the region’s first-ever World Expo aims to be the most technologically-advanced World Expo in the event’s 167-year history. Dating back to London in 1851, World Expos have produced countless memorable moments, including the public debuts of both the telephone and television, the world’s first glimpse of an X-Ray machine and even the launch of Heinz tomato ketchup.
Since that first staging in Hyde Park – grandly lauded as ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’ – World Expos have bridged cultural and technological divides by promoting education, innovation and co-operation.
Life-changing devices have been launched and revolutionary ideas hatched that have altered the way we live, while the architectural genius behind Expos of the past have left behind monuments and imposing structures that have been as breathtaking as they have been groundbreaking.
The Eiffel Tower is a legacy of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, while the centre piece of the 1958 Expo – the Brussels World Fair – is the Atomium, now firmly established as the most recognisable construction in Belgium.
As you would expect from a city that has contributed more than its fair share of outstanding architecture in recent years, Dubai will unveil several distinctive and ‘smart’ buildings of its own for Expo 2020, although, as is the case with the modern Expo, the focus will be more on how the world can positively affect environmental and social change, as well as educate and inspire.
“The architectural part is important, but we are looking far beyond structures as legacy,” says Marjan Faraidooni, Senior Vice President, Legacy Development and Impact at Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Yes, we will have a very unique site, but it is what these buildings will foster in terms of an exchange of culture, discussions and inspiration that is more important.
“This is a perfect example of the vision of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who spoke of respecting different cultures and nature and who encouraged the need for dialogue and connectivity.
“As the host nation we are committed to educate and inspire using our sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. At Expo 2020, we will provide visitors with a look at how we have progressed as humans, a view of technology today and how it has enhanced the world, and finally, give visitors a glimpse of the tools that will be available in the future.
“We want it to be a place to inspire and make the visitor feel they can impact the world if they choose to do something different with the technologies coming their way.”
Expo 2020 Dubai will also give the city a chance to showcase its culture and traditions to the world, while at the same time underlining its brand position as a technological hub for the 21st Century.
“This will be six months of the UAE in action,” adds Faraidooni. “Beautiful public grounds that have been inspired by the traditions of the UAE have been designed as places to introduce visitors from around the world to our culture.
“We have looked at a variety of previous World Expos from The Great Exhibition of 1851 to Expo Milano 2015. These were all great learning opportunities but every city is different. Our legacy has to complement the future vision of Dubai and the UAE.”
To be staged from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021, the Expo 2020 site covers a total of 438 hectares with preparations well on track to complete the major construction projects by October 2019, a full year before the Expo opens to the public.
While most Expos are held between May and October, Expo 2020 Dubai’s lifespan will see it embrace a wide range of special occasions and memorable dates.
“There will be unique content and programming throughout Expo and we will have some amazing holidays to celebrate,” enthuses Gillian Hamburger, Senior Vice President, Commercial, Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Not only will we have beautiful weather, we will also be open during significant dates such UAE National Day, Diwali, Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. Dubai does New Year’s Eve in such an imaginative way – can you imagine what it will be like on the Expo site in 2020?”
Prospective visitors will soon be able to discover more about the ticketing packages available for an event that will undoubtedly require multiple visits to truly take advantage of the sprawling site.
“We are finalising our ticketing model and will announce more details in the first quarter of 2019,” adds Hamburger. “We aim to provide ticketing options that allow overseas visitors to get as much as they can from Expo 2020 with a single or multiple-day pass, and will also have a number of offers in place in order to encourage locally-based visitors to come as often as they possibly can.”
International travellers on Emirates will also be able to keep up-to-date with the progress of Expo 2020 through the airline’s ongoing partnership with the mega-event.
“Emirates was our first partner and has always been supportive from the bid process through this pre-Expo campaign and will be during Expo itself,” says Hamburger.
“The airline helps us with global marketing and awareness from Expo 2020 Dubai-branded aircraft to our own dedicated channel on the ice inflight entertainment system where we can communicate what visitors can expect to see at Expo 2020.
“We will have many stories to tell along the way – on our partners, ticketing, licensing and retail, basically all the things visitors will experience. For example, the largest group of concessionaires are the F&B operators. We will have more than 200 gastronomy experiences, which will start fitting out their spaces in January 2020… basically, it’s like putting together a giant puzzle.
“We are 24 months out but we all know the last six months is readiness testing when we have a lock-down period so really we are talking about being just 18 months away.”
Several participating countries have already broken ground on their pavilions, and the Expo team expects many more to commence construction during the coming months.
Among the buildings taking shape which will form part of the event’s legacy, the stunning Mobility Pavilion –designed by Foster + Partners – Al Wasl Plaza and the Sustainability Pavilion are set to remain UAE landmarks long after Expo has closed its doors.
Featuring a 360-degree projection surface, the Al Wasl Plaza dome will be a unique entertainment piece and one of the event’s talking points, while the Sustainability Pavilion and its cutting-edge architecture will boast a 120m-diameter solar panelled roof with the capacity to generate its electricity and water.
“Once Expo is over, the Sustainability Pavilion will remain as the Children and Science Centre, while the Al Wasl Plaza, which sits at the heart of the project, will stay as a unique event location,” adds Faraidooni.
“More important, however, is that we create a framework to ensure what we do as an event has social, economic and reputational impact as well as physical.”
With 25 million visits expected between October 2020 and April 2021 – equivalent to welcoming the population of Australia through its gates in only six months – Expo 2020 Dubai is constantly looking for ways to deliver an exceptional visitor experience to people from around the world.
Smart technology and the use of applied intelligence will combine to provide those visitors with a truly immersive connection to the Expo. After years of Expos offering a futuristic glimpse into what “could be”, Dubai’s intention is to provide a “here and now” engagement between technology and visitors.
“We have to be future-forward and ensure we are constantly looking at innovation and future technology that we can apply to Expo 2020,” says Iman Alomrani, Vice President – Applied Intelligence, Innovation and Future Technology, Expo 2020 Dubai.
“Technology is moving so fast – whatever is mainstream today may not be applicable or may even be completely obsolete by 2020. We have applied design principles that will create moments that will resonate with visitors for a long time to come. We want them to leave thinking: “Wow, I’ll always remember Dubai because of what I experienced at Expo 2020.”
Among these services are essentials – the basics that have to be there – but topped up by “a layer that will give visitors delightful moments” before the third layer, a touch that will provide the “hero moments.”
“There is a difference between what visitors will see and what they will feel,” adds Alomrani. “What they will see is the content. What they feel is when they queue, when they want to book something, that all adds to the experience. We have already started working on a project to help profile our visitors and to tailor the experience to make it personal and memorable.
“We have also put ourselves in the shoes of every type of visitor and walked through the entire visitor journey to establish what we can do to provide them with those special touches.
“We have defined more than 100 services and are now going through the feasibility of each one and their implementation. It’s a constant process – are they still considered new? We might have a level that we think is a “wow” factor now but by this time next year it may only be worthy of the second layer or it may have become essential simply because everyone is doing it.
“We have to make sure we are always ahead of the game because it’s our promise to deliver an exceptional Expo. A lot of these designs may not be driven by technology, but they can be enhanced by technology to make them as fresh and current as possible.”
Delivering that unique visitor experience is a must – with 70 per cent of Expo 2020’s visitors expected to be from outside the UAE (the largest proportion of international visitors in the history of World Expo), this is Dubai’s showcase to the world.
“If you add together all of the tickets sold for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the London 2012 Summer Olympics, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, the total is still lower than the number of visits that Expo 2020 Dubai expects to attract,” says Hamburger.
“A World Expo is not a sporting event. It is bigger in terms of scope, duration, opportunities and magnitude. Expo 2020 Dubai is all about ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’”.