Expo 2020 Dubai: The world's 'greatest show' is now open
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Expo 2020 Dubai: The world’s ‘greatest show’ is now open

Expo 2020 Dubai: The world’s ‘greatest show’ is now open

The event has officially opened its doors to the world – marking the first global event on this scale to be held in-person since the outbreak of the pandemic. What kind of an impact will it have?

Drumroll… And the world’s ‘greatest show’ is now open. I distinctly remember the day Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020 in November 2013. Making an impassioned speech during the UAE’s final presentation at the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) General Assembly, Reem Al Hashimy, the then managing director for Dubai’s Expo 2020 bid (and currently its director general) stressed that the UAE was “committed to bring about positive change in the future”.

“My generation has been inspired by our forefathers, they have entrusted us with a city that is capable of hosting the world,” she said.
Later in the evening, we were in office late, blogging live with the updates as the voting began. And it was jubilations all around as the UAE beat Turkey, Brazil and Russia to win the hosting rights for the World Expo, to be held for the first time in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region. Once the celebrations faded, the work began.

And almost eight later, Expo 2020 Dubai has opened to the world under its theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ – marking the biggest global event of its kind to be held since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to me last month, Marjan Faraidooni, chief experience officer at Expo 2020 Dubai confirmed that the mega event is ready to ‘welcome the world’. “We cannot wait for visitors to come through our doors… We’re very excited to show the world what will be one of the biggest events in the world post Covid. So we’re excited and we’re getting ready and we are constantly talking about how we can make the visitor journey something pleasant and exciting,” she said.

But has Covid-19, which has disrupted the entire world order and shifted back the event by a year, changed the deliverables – either operationally or otherwise?

“In terms of the delivery of experiences and structures, nothing has changed. What has really been something that we’ve been working diligently on – with all the authorities – is our operations, to make sure that the safety of our visitors is priority during this pandemic that we’re all living through. So from an operational perspective, there have been changes that have been made – to ensure that we maintain social distancing and we have doubled up on our sanitisation programmes. And to support the safety of our workforce, we have implemented a policy that anybody who works at Expo, even if they are volunteers, needs to be vaccinated. So there has been a very hard look at our operations and we continuously look at it and identify risks based on what is happening on a local level and an international level. So this is something that’s very ongoing,” she explained.

What’s on offer

Spread across 4.38 square kilometres in Dubai South, Expo 2020 Dubai will see the participation of 192 countries – marking the first time in World Expo history that every participating country will have its own pavilion. Running from October 1, 2021 until March 31, 2022, it is also the largest event ever staged in the Arab world.

The Expo 2020 site is divided into three thematic districts based on the expo subthemes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability, with each anchored by a thematic pavilion. The districts will have country pavilions, along with F&B options and other activities.

The centrepiece of the site is the Al Wasl Plaza which features the iconic translucent dome that offers a canvas for panoramic projections. The immense structure – measuring 130 metres in diameter and more than 67 metres in height, will host large-scale performances and flagship events such as New Year’s Eve, the opening and closing ceremonies and UAE National Day.

Flanking it on one side is the Rove Expo 2020 – the only hotel located onsite at the venue. The property features 312 rooms as well as 19 suites, F&B options, a rooftop swimming pool overlooking the Al Wasl Plaza, as well as a 24-hour gym, foosball tables and an outdoor garden space. “We expect this hotel to be full from day one, throughout the event,” Paul Bridger, chief operating officer at Rove Hotels told us during a media tour in September.

Located very close to the hotel is the destination for all major conferences, exhibitions, summits, forums, concerts, performances and gala dinners at the site – the 45,000 square metre Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), which will carry on post Expo 2020 as part of the legacy development District 2020.

Outside of business, the entertainment programme at the Expo includes up to 60 live shows a day, digital theatre productions, poetry slams, fashion shows, 200-plus F&B outlets, discussions, special celebrations, mindfulness sessions and extreme sports.

“A lot of people ask us ‘what is an expo’ – so this is their opportunity to come and experience it. Expo 2020 Dubai is a place that has something for everyone, for every nationality and for every age. We have 192 country pavilions – you can actually go around the world at the Expo. And for those of us who haven’t travelled a lot in the past couple of years, that’s really exciting. Also, there’s a day life and a nightlife to it. And one of the key things that comes to life at night is our Al Wasl Dome, which will showcase beautiful shows for people to see. But what’s wonderful about this Expo is that countries are also bringing their own performers and artists. So I hope visitors are as excited as we are for them to come through our doors,” says Faraidooni.

“We are all going through this difficult moment all around the world with the pandemic and this is the first time an event of this scale is being hosted. And we’re doing it under very stringent safety guidelines to protect the visitors and the staff. But that I hope will not take away from the fun that people can experience. And I hope when people come out of it, they come out inspired. And they define for themselves what this Expo meant for them,” she adds.

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