Welcoming the World

Charles Martin reports on what winning the Expo will mean for the UAE and Dubai in particular

PHOTO: Credit:

Everyone in the region knows that Dubai is bidding to host the 2020 Expo, but like the meaning of the word ‘paradigm’ everyone may think they know what it means, but they probably don’t have a clue.

For the uninitiated the World Expo first took place in 1851. London World Expo is universally recognised as the first modern World Expo, which was called the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’.

The next one was in Paris and that’s why they built the Eiffel Tower. Other buildings built for World Expos in the past are: Crystal Palace in London, the Palace of Fine Arts in Chicago, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Atomium in Brussels, the Space Needle in Seattle and the Millennium Dome in London, again.

World Expos offer a chance to change the image of a city. Chicago’s reputation was flagging in the 1930s. A World Expo study done by China for the 2010 event concluded that ‘The World Expo in 1933 transformed Chicago into one of the centres of American cities.”

Urban decision makers and planners in every city in the world came to know this: the World Expo is a rare opportunity to transform a city, namely to incorporate the World Expo design into the master plan for the city and take the cultural and trade exchanges at the World Expo as a necessary step towards creating a transformed city.

Now this writer, among many others, feels that if Dubai transforms any more you won’t be able to find anything, but there is no doubt of the economic benefits this could bring to Dubai.

MEED’s MENA Projects Forecast and Review 2013 report puts this into perspective: “More than $1.1 trillion worth of contracts have been awarded in the GCC alone over the past 10 years,” the report says. “In 2012, about $110 billion worth of deals were let, and 2013 is expected to better that with around $150 billion worth of contracts awarded based on the performance of the first six months of the year,’ it adds.

So to put it bluntly, Dubai doesn’t really need the Expo. It just wants it.

Craig Plumb, of Jones Lang LaSalle, points out the benefits: “If Dubai is successful when the winning city is announced in November, then confidence will be catapulted to even greater heights on the back of boosted employment and economic growth and reinforce the emirate’s position as a regional hub.”

His colleagues at Jones Lang LaSalle agree: “The short-term benefits are pretty obvious, in that it will be a massive boost to the tourism market, a huge profile raiser for Dubai and it will generate economic activity in the run-up to the event, in the six months of the event and for a period afterwards,” says Alan Robertson, chief executive officer (CEO), Middle East and North Africa for Jones Lang LaSalle, which advised on the Dubai Expo 2020 master plan.

The total value to the economy of staging the event has been estimated at over $38 billion, with more than 277,000 jobs created between 2013 and 2021. So Dubai’s residents can look forward to another quarter of a million expats and a fair bet that rents in JLT and JBR will rise by another 4,000,000% by 2021 (A slight exaggeration).

And don’t even think about mall parking because it’s a horror story. But I digress, there are benefits even after the expo has finished.

Robertson explains: “Equally important is the post event legacy plan which will see the expo site become the Dubai Trade Centre, Jebel Ali.”

“A successful bid will also bring forward major infrastructure improvements including the Al-Maktoum International airport and the extension to the Dubai metro. One of the real legacy values is the residential development around Dubai World Central. It will help sort out the big housing imbalances in Dubai.”

So more tourists, more construction, more labourers, and a bigger metro…
Dubai has also hired consultancy Mace, a consultancy and construction company with a presence in 69 countries around the world.

Mace has been engaged by the Expo 2020 team to assist with cost management and planning.

This £1 billion firm has carried out a wide range of high-profile projects, including serving as a delivery partner for the infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Which went on to be considered on the best Olympic Games ever held.

Helal Saeed Al Marri, CEO of the Dubai World Trade Centre and Member of the Higher Committee for Hosting the 2020 World Expo in Dubai, says: “As this announcement demonstrates, we continue to strengthen the team leading the master plan development of this specialised, highly connected 438ha site.”

So who are the other bidders, you’re probably wondering?

They are Brazil, Russia, Thailand and Turkey. Those who did not bid included Ayutthaya, Thailand (Withdrawn Bid), Houston, Texas, USA (Non-Bid), Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Non-Bid), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Non-Bid), Silicon Valley, California, USA (Non-Bid), South Africa (Non-Bid) and St. Petersburg, Russia (Non-Bid).

The website www.expomuseum.com points out: ‘Since their inception in London in 1851, over one billion people have visited a world’s fair.”

“Known in most of the world as expos. the largest held so far was Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.’

However, whoever wins Expo 2020 will be setting a precedent: ‘If Dubai or Izmir wins, it will be the first Middle Eastern expo. Expo 2020 will be the first Russian world’s fair if Yekaterinburg wins.

A São Paulo victory would make it the first world’s fair in South America and Latin America as well as the first in the Western Hemisphere in 34 years and the first in the Southern Hemisphere in 32 years’ according to a statement on the Expobids official website.

So what are the odds of Dubai winning? The US’s New York Times thinks they are fairly good.

“Dubai is expected to win the bid to host 2020 World Expo, thanks to government support and political tensions in other countries bidding for the event.”

In an article about the event, the paper said Dubai, which would be the first host of the world’s fair in the Middle East, has emerged as the front-runner. It said: ‘Political tensions in Russia and in Turkey could hurt the chances of Yekaterinburg and Izmir.’

The paper also said that São Paulo in Brazil, the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, is seen as least likely to succeed, when the 100 or so delegates of the exposition bureau’s General Assembly vote in November.

Let’s leave the last word to Craig Plumb, of Jones Lang LaSalle.

“Even if the Expo bid fails, all is not lost,” advises Plumb. “Dubai’s economy is more robust than it has been for more than five years, and should maintain its upward trajectory regardless of whether or not it wins the bid.”

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