I was in a taxi heading towards Abu Dhabi airport when I got news that the winner of the Expo 2020 had been announced. And the winner is… Turkey, wrote CMME’s Gavin Davids in a text. Only kidding – it’s Dubai.
Blame missing the fireworks at Burj Khalifa, but the only emotion I felt was relief. At the Big-5 and PMV Live everybody had been talking about the Expo. Coverage of the announcement was even streamed on a huge screen at the World Trade Center, ensuring Al-Wasit’s and Hyundai’s decision to put a huge banner next to it was a stroke of both fantastic foresight and luck. In the run-up to the announcement I had heard a number of conflicting stories of how the voting was likely to proceed.
Six weeks before the talk was of Izmir and how the only ‘real’ competitor to Dubai had a good chance to surprise everyone as the convoluted voting procedure unfurled. Then on the week of the announcement, I was told by someone who knew someone working on the Expo judging team that the Russian city of Yekaterinburg could amaze everyone and sneak it. That grandmaster of international politics Vladimir Putin had stepped in and was sweeping the rivals away, I was told. Dubai still had a chance but it was going to be a close run thing.
Sometimes even, for a journalist, too much information can be a bad thing. Thankfully once the voting started, Dubai, as it had done throughout got in front and stayed in front. The rest will be history. I’ve written a number of times about the significance hosting the Expo will have on the UAE. I’ve also, like everyone else, hedged my bets by saying whatever the result the country can still look forward to the next decade.
However, most people placed an almost desperate amount of hope on what it could mean. It is with relief that these people can now look forward. Certainly those that have gone region-wide can be optimistic that their move to mitigate risk could be fulfilled by a move to unmitigated success. There is now so much in the pipeline that we’re going to need a bigger industry to meet all the opportunities ahead. Those that are serving local markets concern me most. Nobody has yet convinced me that prices can remain stable or that there is enough in the inventory to handle demand (which could also contribute to rising prices). At the same time, contract prices are at a decade-low and this will place extreme pressure on companies that have stripped down to cope with a sluggish market. Are we really in a position to scale up, especially as the Saudi market suffocates and Qatar gets its head around what is required to meet all the terms of hosting an event on the scale of the FiFA World Cup?
We’ve seen greater interaction between the public and private sector but this relationship will be tested in the years ahead. Great work to improve safety standards is also under threat due to a scaling back of local inspectors and third-party inspectors.
Now the celebrations have ended, I for one, am relieved that the real work can begin.