By Jim Ogul
Expo 2020 Dubai
Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world’s fair hosted in the MENA region, opened Oct 1, 2021 and will run through March 31, 2022. At this writing, four months into the six-month run, the event organizers have reported attendance of 11 million, putting it in target distance of its original projection of 25 million. This is a remarkable achievement in the face of conditions and international travel restrictions that could not have been foreseen in the initial years of planning and construction for the expo prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (The expo was initially planned to run in 2020 but opening was delayed for about a year due to the pandemic, with organizers choosing to retain the “2020” title.)
Organizers had originally anticipated meeting the 25 million with 70% of attendance coming from overseas, but we expect that in the end the demographics will show something more akin to the traditional model of a world’s fair with the bulk of attendance coming from closer to home. Marketing and programming has emphasized theme weeks and performances by headline entertainers, contributing to daily average attendance figures recently as high as 122,000. Theme weeks have been held on Climate and Biodiversity, Space, Urban and Rural Development, Tolerance and Inclusivity, Knowledge and Learning, Travel and Connectivity, Global Goal, Health and Food, Agriculture and Livelihoods and Water.
The Al Wasl dome, centerpiece of the expo has served as a venue for entertainment specials by entertainers such as Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, and a star-studded K-pop concert. Oscar, BAFTA and Grammy winning composer A.R. Rahman and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur have teamed to create Expo 2020 Dubai “Why? The Musical.” The 45-minute show opened Jan. 20, 2022 and will continue through Feb. 27.
The expo has a virtual component as well that is also receiving its share of visitors. In a recent report to the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the intergovernmental organization in charge of overseeing and regulating world expos, Manal AlBayat, Dubai Expo 2020 Chief Engagement Officer reported that over 10,000 events were held in the Expo’s first two months, and online and virtual visits have reached 28 million. Director General H.E. Reem Al Hashimy stated that the Expo is a place where “the world is right now sharing a story of solidarity, humanity, renewed hope, and unbowed optimism.”
Health and safety remain a priority, with stringent rules across the Expo site. On-site measures include wearing of masks at all times, indoors as well as outdoors, for all visitors, staff and participants, and PCR testing facilities for Country Pavilion staff, frontline workers and entertainers. All Expo visitors ages 18 and above must show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test result taken within the previous 72 hours.
Expo 2025, Osaka, Kansai
Looking ahead, Expo 2025, Osaka, Kansai, Japan is just three years away. Osaka is a world’s fair legacy city, having previously hosted a very successful expo in 1970. For the six-month event in 2025 (April 13-Oct 13) 72 countries and six international organizations have already confirmed participation. In total, 150 countries and 25 international organizations are expected to participate. The theme of the Expo is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” There are three sub-themes: Saving Lives; Empowering Live; and Connecting Lives. The venue is Yumeshima, Osaka, an artificial island located on the waterfront in Osaka. With an area of 1.55 square kilometers, the venue will have a pavilion area in its center. The projected audience is approximately 28.2 million. Ambassador Sadayuki Sakakibara and the Deputy Secretary General of the Organiser Manatsu Ichinoki recently informed BIE delegates that construction of pavilions is set to begin in Spring 2023.
Competition to host specialized Expo 2027/28
Beyond Osaka, the next available slot for a BIE sanctioned international exposition is 2027/28, and there are five candidates to host. This will be for a three-month Specialized Exhibition and there are five bidders: the USA (Minnesota – “Healthy People, Healthy Planet,” May-Aug 2027), Spain (Malaga – “The Urban Era: Towards the Sustainable City,” June-Sept 2027), Serbia (Belgrade – “Play for Humanity; Sport & Music,” May-Aug 2028), Thailand (Phuket – “Living in Harmony, Sharing Prosperity,” March-June 2028) and Argentina (San Carlos de Bariloche – “Sustainable Energy – a Viable Future for Humanity,” Feb-April 2027). The BIE closed the candidature list on Jan 28, 2022 and the next phase is project examination for which each candidate submits a detailed dossier. The BIE will then organize enquiry missions to assess the feasibility and viability of each candidature project. The host country of Specialized Expo 2027/28 will then be elected by BIE’s 170 countries gathered in a General Assembly, on the principle of one country, one vote.
Competition for World Expo 2030
Five countries are vying for the opportunity to host World Expo 2030. Project examination will take place in 2022 and 2023, and BIE member states will vote in 2023. The candidates are Korea (Busan – “Transforming our World,” May-Oct), Russia (Moscow – “Human Progress,” April-Oct), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh – “The Era of Change,” Oct 2030 – April 2031). Ukraine (Odesa – “Renaissance, Technology, Future,” May-Oct) and Italy (Rome – “Urban Regeneration, Inclusion and Innovation,” April-Oct).
Words from the BIE
On behalf of the BIE Secretary General Dimitri S. Kerkentzes provided InPark with a statement on its role, and a summary of the modern expo scene:
“The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is the intergovernmental organization that ensures the successful organization of Expos by overseeing the election of host countries, providing expertise to candidates and organizers, and regulating the conditions in which Expos take place. Through coordination with its 170 Member States and with Expo Organizers – as was demonstrated by the one-year postponement of Expo 2020 Dubai in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – the BIE assures the continuity of Expos and guarantees their relevancy and evolution across the decades. With a constant dedication to the Expo values of Education, Innovation and Cooperation, the BIE embodies the commitment of its Member States to lead, promote and foster Expos for the benefit of all humanity.
“Bringing people and nations together since 1851, Expos are global events that explore and address shared challenges through engaging and immersive experiences. In an increasingly connected and fast-paced world, Expos provide humanity with an inclusive and reactive platform to learn, to exchange, and to share best practices. Focusing on subjects common to all nations, Expos bring together diverse actors to engage in meaningful debate about the path towards a better future. The strong interest in organizing Specialized Expo 2027/28 and World Expo 2030 is demonstrative of the essential role of Expos – as a tool of modern multilateralism – in encouraging everyone to be part of the solution to shared challenges.”