Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Dubai Expo 2020 forecasts a unique attendance model for a world’s fair

Dubai Expo 2020 organizers project their six-month world’s fair will be visited 25 million times between opening day on 20 October 2020, and closing day on 10 April 2021. Dubai’s 25M figure is in line with visitation at comparable past expos (Milan 2015 visitation was 21M). But its attendance model is unique – because it forecasts that 70% of those visits will come from outside the UAE. That would constitute the largest proportion of international visitors in Expo history.

Story by James Ogul, world’s fair editor, InPark Magazine

Image at top: Aerial view, Dubai Expo 2020. Photo courtesy the Expo.

James Ogul
James Ogul

[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]A[/dropcap]lthough world expos or world’s fairs are global by nature and always draw many tourists and international visitors, historically the majority of attendance, especially repeat visitation, is drawn from the regional population, many of whom purchase season tickets. In the case of Shanghai Expo 2010, for example, the total number of visits was 73M – a visitation record for a world’s fair – but only 12% or 15M was from outside China while 88% or 58M was domestic.

Of course, China could rely upon its vast population for Expo attendance. Dubai Expo 2020 anticipates the reverse. The organizers expect 7.5M domestic visits out of the projected 25M total or 30% – leaving 70% (17.5M) visiting from abroad.

According to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the international body that regulates world’s fairs, the methodology used to estimate the Dubai attendance projections was as follows: “For the international projections, they used a 3-step approach: First, defining an addressable market of international visitors to Dubai in 2020; second, assessing their likelihood to visit Expo 2020 Dubai as part of their trip; and third, estimating the frequency of visit for each visitor segment.”

As for attracting 17.5M international visitors, Dubai is already reportedly attracting 14.2M tourists a year. Beyond that, passenger traffic at Dubai’s two airports is on a steady increase and has been forecast to reach 100M by the end of 2020.

Dubai infrastructure appears well prepared for the anticipated influx of visitors, with transit upgrades and expansions of hotel accommodations underway. The Expo site, on the southwestern edge of the emirate, equidistant from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is well positioned to draw from both those markets. It will be accessible by a new metro line being built expressly for the purpose. Al Maktoum International Airport is likewise being enlarged in preparation for the Expo.

Nick Winslow
Nick Winslow

We turned to Nick Winslow, a highly regarded industry expert in themed attractions and world expos, and a feasibility specialist, to discuss how Dubai 2020 could accomplish its attendance goals. Winslow pointed out that the main challenge to the Dubai Expo marketing program will be to capture the large number of visitors moving through Dubai’s airports, which will require a significant change in current patterns but should be achievable with a strong offering.

Winslow also commented that Dubai 2020 having secured Emirates Airline as a premier partner is a great first step toward meeting the international attendance number. As for domestic visitation, the population of Dubai is currently 2.25M and is estimated to grow to 3.4M with a total UAE population of more than 11M by 2020. This will be the base for season ticket holders that visit the expo multiple times.

It nevertheless remains to be seen how it all works out – as this will be a first for a world’s fair to rely primarily on international visitors. An active and effective international marketing program that makes the most of group sales opportunities and tourism partnerships will be very important. But the Middle East is a unique market for visitor attractions, already operating “outside the box” in terms of entertainment development. The new theme parks in the UAE also look to outside visitation for a large proportion of attendance. We will watch with interest.


Jim Ogul
Jim Ogul
Since retiring from the US State Department in 2011 after a 30+ year career in world expos, James Ogul ([email protected]) has remained on the scene in an advisory and consulting role. He writes regularly for InPark Magazine about world’s fairs. See his free online book, Tales From the Expo.

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