Thursday, June 20, 2024

Dubai 2020: The Expo

By James Ogul and Judith Rubin

Images courtesy Dubai Expo 2020

Dubai Expo 2020 is set to take place October 20, 2020 – April 10, 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates. It will be the first world’s fair to be hosted in the Middle East.

On 27 November 2013, The Bureau International des Exhibitions (BIE), the Paris-based entity that regulates world’s fairs, conducted a vote among its 169 member countries, and Dubai won the privilege to host the 2020 world expo, beating out Yekaterinburg, Russia; Izmir, Turkey and São Paulo, Brazil.

The Dubai 2020 theme is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”; sub-themes are Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. Organizers project visitation of 25 million, with 70% of those visits coming from outside the UAE. At this writing, 170 countries had committed to take part in the expo.

Construction, jobs and green initiatives

Over the course of 2017, some $294 million was awarded in Dubai 2020 expo construction contracts. According to an article in “Arabian Business,” the Dubai expo reported that the foundations of the three theme areas are complete, with building construction currently underway. The three theme districts, which are being developed by Al Futtaim Carillion, are slated for completion by the end of 2018. UAE-based companies taking a lead role in the construction effort include Al Futtaim Carillion, Khansaheb, Besix, Arabtec, Tristar Engineering and Al Naboodah. According to recently released BNC Network figures, more than $9.5 billion in contracts will be awarded prior to the opening of the expo and projects are expected to generate 500,000 new jobs over the next eight years.

Green initiatives are being factored into Expo 2020. Examples include: paving the expo road with concrete from previous projects; a 30,000-vehicle parking lot built by grinding thousands of recycled tires; using additives in the concrete mix that will reduce the consumption of water in the construction; and moving 5 million cubic meters of sand but reusing the sand for leveling the site. Smart building and smart grid technology will complement passive strategies to reduce power consumption by 20 percent – or 150,000 megawatts per hour. All expo permanent buildings are targeting LEED Gold certification or higher.

But the expo goes even further in its goal to present innovative models of sustainability, in the form of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) Solar Park, currently under construction and projected to furnish the expo with a dedicated capacity of 464MW of clean energy. During the 6th edition of the World Government Summit, HE Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General, Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau, HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), and Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to commence a pilot project for what is being billed as the region’s first solar-driven hydrogen electrolysis facility at DEWA’s outdoor testing facilities at the Solar Park. DEWA has allocated AED 4.26 billion to support the infrastructure for electricity and water at the expo, and is the official Sustainable Energy Partner. There will be three substations, named Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity, after the three subthemes of the expo. DEWA aims to generate 100% of the energy that will be used by the expo from clean and renewable energy sources.


In addition to development of the expansive expo site, a great deal of infrastructure work is taking place to support the event. The Road and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai has lined up $4 billion in related transport projects, including an Airport Road Improvement Project, and more buses and taxis, and a 15 km, 7-station Route 2020 Dubai Metro Red Line extension that will connect the expo site with Nakheel Harbor & Tower.

ExpoLink Consortium, led by Alstom (St-Ouen, France) signed the contract to design and extend the Dubai Metro’s Red Line and modernize its existing systems, with the Dubai Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) in 2016. The consortium includes London-based Weston Williamson+Partners, a master planning and infrastructure firm, collaborating with engineering and construction firms CH2M (Englewood, CO), Alstom, ACCIONA (Madrid) and Gulermack JV (Ankara, Turkey) on the new, $2.45 billion Red Line extension, which includes an 11.8km viaduct and 3.2km of underground track. In June 2017, Alstom announced that drilling was underway with its tunnel boring machine, nicknamed “Wugeisha Expo 2020.” In March 2018, Reuters reported that the government of Dubai had completed arrangements of a financing package for the metro extension project, and that in 2017 it had secured a $3 billion loan for airport expansion, including Al Maktoum International Airport which serves Dubai and currently handles some 7 million passengers a year.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has awarded two contracts worth Dh1.36 billion ($370 million) for phases One and Two of the Expo Roads Improvement Project to handle traffic that will serves expo visitors and future projects in the area. These two phases include improving Jebel Ali-Lehbab Road at the intersection with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road. It also includes the construction of bridges on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road to serve the traffic from and to expo yard.

A partial list of other companies that have been awarded contracts for the expo: AECOM (urban planning and public realm design consultant), Thinkwell (content master planner), Parsons International (infrastructure design and construction support services consultant), Foster & Partners (Mobility Pavilion), Bjarke Ingels Group (Opportunity Pavilion), Grimshaw Architects (Sustainability Pavilion), Santiago Calatrava (UAE National Pavilion), Deloitte (concept of operations), JLL (real estate feasibility study), The Event Planning Group (operations consultant), The Russell Partnership (food & beverage consultant) and Goodharbour (security consultant).

Exhibitors show enthusiasm and RFPs are being issued

As is usual for a six-month world’s fair, many of the participants will plan and build ground-up pavilion structures and strive for innovative architectural statements. With 170 counties already on board and more expected, there will be many RFPs and tenders issued for exhibition design and fabrication. Nowadays, expo participants often set up their own websites and social media presence to help build enthusiasm and form their teams. Some participants are planning to start foundation work as early as April 2018.

There have been a number of recent tenders issued and announcements of participation including from the US, UK, Germany, Ireland, Vienna, Czech Republic, Australia, Brazil, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Namibia.

Senior officials for participating countries have gone on the record expressing their enthusiasm and the benefits of having a presence at the Dubai expo.

J.M. Mollen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to the UAE, said in an interview with Dubai’s Khaleej Times, “The Netherlands sees Expo 2020 as an important tool to strengthen our relationship with our Emirati friends and other partners worldwide and to work with these partners to find solutions for the problems of today and tomorrow.”

Italy’s General Commissioner Paolo Glisenti was quoted in “ANSA Med” saying, ‘’… in its participation in the expo, Italy will work on four axes: economic, cultural, informal and educational diplomacy.” He added that the UAE is a ‘’strategic’’ area for Italy and that it will be holding three years of events for the expo, from 2018 through 2020.’’

“Expo 2020 will allow us to demonstrate New Zealand’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, through a lens of kaitiakitanga , to a global audience of millions,” said Clayton Kimpton, New Zealand’s CommissionerGeneral for Expo 2020. New Zealand recently announced the design team for its $53 million pavilion: a multidisciplinary consortium led by Jasmax (architecture) along with Special Group (creative story-telling) and Mott MacDonald (engineering). New Zealand’s pavilion will be located in the Sustainability District.

According to a UK government report, UK International Trade Secretary Dr. Liam Fox has stated that the UK plans to theme its Pavilion around “Opportunity,” focusing on how UK expertise can help spread prosperity across the world. Fox indicated that the UK is committed to playing a key role in helping Dubai stage a successful expo and his department is helping British companies bring their expertise to build pavilions.

Post-use plan

Dubai 2020 organizers have a detailed plan for use of the site after closing day, based on retaining 80 percent of the site. Some buildings will remain unchanged, including the Santiago Calatrava-designed UAE National Pavilion. Others will see interior changes: The Sustainability Pavilion, for instance, will live on as a center for child and scientific education. The Dubai World Trade Center Conference and Exhibition Center will also remain once the expo closes.

The expo site will include District 2020 which will have 700,000 square feet of residential space, education facilities and parkland. The Al Wasl Plaza, the central hub of the expo, will remain, and contain gardens within its dome. Siemens has agreed to build a new logistics hub in District 2020. Finally, the development will have one of the world’s first 5G mobile networks and will target companies working in tech and innovation to occupy some of the 1.5 million square feet of commercial space allocated to the site.

All considered – in view of its being the first world expo in the region, forecasting 70% of an expected 25 million attendance from abroad, having a huge $7 billion investment and a solid, viable residual use plan – Dubai Expo 2020 is one of the most ambitious world’s fairs ever undertaken. We look forward to the next chapter of this adventure, and to opening day. •

Dubai 2020 organizers

A list of some of the key individuals running Dubai Expo 2020

• Her Excellency Reem Bint Ebrahim Al Hashimy, Cabinet Member and Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of the EXPO 2020 Dubai

• Tony Aitkenhead, Acting Chief Operating Officer

• Manal AlBayat, Senior Business Development and Integration

• Nadimeh Mehra, Director Legacy Development and Impact

• Omar Shehadeh , Senior Vice President – International Affairs

• Mukhtar Safi, Senior Vice President – Finance

• Gillian Hamburger, Senior Vice President – Commercial Affairs

• Richard Evans, Senior Vice President Event Operations

Dubai 2020 facts

• The 4.38 square meter expo site is four times the size of the previous six-month world’s fair, held in Milan, Italy in 2015.

• More than 1,200 contracts have been awarded to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and those 1,200 make up half the number of contracts expected to be awarded.

• Infrastructure improvements supporting the event include Dubai 2020’s own Metro Station capable of handling 23,000 passengers per hour each way. It is part of the Red Line set for completion by May 2020.

• The Expo’s four gates will be capable of handling 60,000 visitors an hour.

• Five million meals will be needed to feed the Dubai 2020 workforce during the run of the Expo.

• The site of Dubai 2020 features a central plaza surrounded by three sections, each devoted to one of the three sub-themes. Each participating country can decide which sub-theme it wishes to address with its exhibits. For example, the United States will focus on Mobility and will be located in that section.

Dubai 2020 business partners

Dubai Expo 2020 is recruiting business partners to join the project. The list includes:

• DP World, active in global marine and inland trade. The company owns and operates 77 terminals globally including the Port of Jebel Ali, less than 10 km from the Expo site, and will play a vital role in the supply chain for the Expo.

• Siemens will target the site of Dubai 2020 as a future business location after closing day. The move supports the legacy aspirations of the expo. The company expects this development to support its Vision 2020 and related logistics businesses, creating new growth opportunities globally.

• Emirates Airline will play an important role in bringing visitors to Dubai 2020 as a licensed ticket reseller. With its route network to over 150 destinations it is well placed to support Dubai 2020 in attracting visitors, 70% of whom are expected to travel internationally to visit the expo.

• Emirates NBD will be the exclusive onsite banking partner for the Expo.

• Etisalat Group will play a key role in creating the infrastructure for the Expo site and facilitate a range of digital interfaces for visitors and participants. It will also provide on-site WiFi.

• SAP is Dubai Expo 2020 Enterprise Software Partner and will develop technology to enable organizers and exhibitors to analyze data and support the visitor experience.

• UPS is Official Logistics Partner and will provide more than 27,000 square meters of warehouse space and a team of 1,000 employees during the Expo in Dubai. The company has similar prior experience, as logistics sponsor for the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.

• Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) will work with the Expo to deliver renewable energy, electricity and water projects.

James Ogul is world’s fair editor of InPark and spent much of his career administering world’s fair pavilions for the US Government. Read his book, “Tales from the Expo,” by clicking below:

Tales from the Expo – Lessons for world’s fair exhibitors: an IPM online book by James Ogul

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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