Dubai readies for Expo 2020 vote
The emirate is a strong contender to host the event and stands to gain much if it wins
Efforts to bring the World Expo 2020 to Dubai are reaching a crucial stage. Next month, the Dubai Expo 2020 organising committee will host a thematic symposium at Dubai World Trade Centre in what will be a last opportunity to impress the judges from the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).
The emirate is competing against Izmir in Turkey, Sao Paolo in Brazil and Yekaterinburg in Russia to stage the 2020 World Expo, and the voting will take place on 27 November. The theme of Dubai’s proposed event is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
For any city, hosting a World Expo stimulates economic activity, accelerates infrastructure development and provides a platform to promote itself internationally. Dubai has as much to gain in this regard.
Massive boost for UAE tourism
“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 real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, which advised on the Dubai Expo 2020 masterplan.
It is estimated that over the six months of the event 25 million people would visit Dubai Expo 2020, with more than 70 per cent coming from outside the UAE. The economic impact would begin immediately upon winning the bid, starting with the construction of the Expo site and related infrastructure, estimated to cost E5.2bn ($6.9bn). The total value to the economy of staging the event has been estimated at E28.8bn. More than 277,000 jobs would be created between 2013 and 2021 as a result, with about 40 per cent in the travel and tourism sector. For every Expo employee, about 60 additional jobs would be sustained in the wider economy.
Should Dubai or Izmir win, it would be the first time in the event’s 160-year history that it has been awarded to a Middle East country. For Dubai, there is an added symbolism: the exposition would be held from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021, the 50th year of the UAE’s existence.
Back in December, a 640-page document detailing Dubai’s Expo vision was submitted to the BIE. The masterplan outlines the development of a 438-hectare site, part of Dubai World Central (DWC), at the southwestern end of Dubai. This is next to the Al-Maktoum International airport, close to Jebel Ali port and equidistant between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
At the heart of the Expo site plan is an open plaza called Al-Wasl, meaning ‘the connection’ and also a historical name for Dubai. Branching out from the plaza, there will be three main zones that symbolise the bid’s sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. The centrepiece will be a huge photovoltaic fabric structure that will shade the plaza and capture solar energy, providing 50 per cent of the Expo’s power requirements.
The proposed site is impressive, but equally important for the judges is the post-event legacy plan. This is perhaps the strongest element of Dubai’s bid: the Expo site would become Dubai Trade Centre Jebel Ali.
“Every element of the masterplan has been designed with due consideration to its after-life and with a defined strategy for reuse, striking a balance between long-term requirements for the city as well as the six months of the Dubai Expo 2020,” says Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai Tourism & Commerce Marketing, CEO of Dubai World Trade Centre and a member of the Higher Committee for Dubai Expo 2020. “The Dubai World Trade Centre currently runs at close to capacity throughout the whole year, so the new site at Jebel Ali would be a welcome addition to our infrastructure.”
Post-Expo, the site would be used to host exhibitions and conferences, and the area would also house research facilities and a national museum.
“The DWC site is really important for the next phase of Dubai’s development, and the Expo 2020 would be a catalyst to accelerate that,” says Robertson. “In the original DWC masterplan, there was a part called exhibition city, and that is largely where the Expo will take place. It was happening anyway, so there is no risk of it being mothballed afterwards.
“Some of the big exhibitions at [Dubai World Trade Centre] at the moment should arguably be held in a more peripheral exhibition site and so will probably take place at DWC in the future, leaving the existing [Dubai World Trade Centre] site to be redeveloped for commercial use. It will continue for conferences too.”
If you look at the important attributes of a [World Expo] host city, Dubai has a really strong case
Alan Robertson, Jones Lang LaSalle
The development of the DWC site has moved slower than originally envisaged, largely as a result of the global financial crisis. Winning Expo 2020 would accelerate the pace of progress, encouraging airlines to shift operations to Al-Maktoum International and bringing forwards plans to extend the Dubai metro. Earlier this year, Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority said it would fast-track the extension of the Red Line if the emirate won the event. The expansion would involve building a new stretch of track from the existing terminus at Jebel Ali to Al-Maktoum International and would take three or four years to complete. The transport plans for the Expo site also include a connection with the Etihad Rail network, currently under construction.
Another important element of the legacy will be the housing built at the site to house Expo workers. After the event, this would become affordable housing for workers at the nearby Jebel Ali freezone and the Al-Maktoum airport.
“One of the real legacy values is the development of the residential [facilities] around DWC,” says Robertson. “It will help sort out the big housing imbalances in Dubai. Within the DWC masterplan, there is a residential development proposed, and the Expo would accelerate that as there would be significant staff housing needs.
“If designed in the right way, that housing can be reused as accessible housing for workers at Jebel Ali, Dubai Investment City or DWC, who at the moment live in places such as Sharjah and International City and commute all the way through Dubai. There isn’t a great deal of housing supply on the south side of Dubai, and the Expo can help deal with that. There are [an estimated 180,000] people who work in Jebel Ali and have to commute through the whole of Dubai to get to work.”
Dubai has a strong international team working on its bid. The site masterplan was designed by US firms HOK and Populous, and the UK’s Arup. Jones Lang LaSalle conducted a legacy masterplan review and the UK’s Mace assisted with cost management and planning. Populous’s previous designs include the Wembley and Emirates football stadiums in London; Arup developed the masterplan for Shanghai Expo 2010; and Mace worked on the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Dubai Expo organising committee believes it has a very strong chance of winning the bid, and some analysts have even put Dubai as the frontrunner. There are certainly concerns about the suitability of the other bidders. Brazil has been struggling in its preparations to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, in particular with delivering the infrastructure required and dealing with public anger over the cost of staging the events. Likewise, Russians have been protesting over the spiralling cost of the Sochi Winter Olympics – to be held in February 2014 – amid accusations of corruption and poor quality construction.
Turkish city Istanbul, meanwhile, was the scene earlier this year of angry demonstrations that the government put down with considerable force. By comparison, Dubai has been a bastion of stability, even throughout the uprisings across the Arab world. Furthermore, it has a proven and extensive track record of project delivery, including building Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower.
Strong contender for World Expo 2020
“If you look at the important attributes of a host city, Dubai has a really strong case; if you look at their ability to deliver, to make the event global … and the clear legacy benefit for the city and the importance to the region,” says Robertson. “The only proviso would be if the judges think the event should be more locally focused.”
The Dubai Expo 2020 bid has huge backing in the emirate and the wider UAE, with leading brands and businesses actively supporting it. Winning the event is not a make-or-break for Dubai, however; its economy is performing strongly and its tourism sector continues to break records year after year. But hosting Expo 2020 would draw a line under the bad press it received during its debt crisis of 2008-09 and tell the world that Dubai is back in business.