Q&A: Helal Saeed Almarri, member of the Higher Committee for Dubai Expo 2020
Almarri is also director general of Dubai Tourism & Commerce Marketing and chief executive officer of Dubai World Trade Centre
Why did Dubai decide to bid for the Expo 2020?
The desire to host Expo 2020 is an organic outcome of the UAE’s Vision 2021 strategy and Expo 2020 would be particularly significant as it would coincide with the eve of the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Since 1851, World Expo has provided significant opportunities to engage the global community in a shared project. The UAE believes in the convening power of the World Expo to bring together minds to tackle and provide solutions to the world’s major challenges of today and tomorrow.
A World Expo in Dubai would also be a first for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region, bringing opportunity not only to Dubai and the UAE, but also to the two billion people who live in the wider region.
How will hosting the Expo benefit Dubai?
Dubai Expo 2020 will spur significant employment, trade and investment opportunities not only for Dubai and the UAE, but for the entire MENASA region, leaving lasting economic impact. For example, more than 277,000 jobs would be created between 2013 – 2021 as a result of Dubai Expo 2020 - 40 per cent of which would be within the travel and tourism sector. Importantly, for every Expo employee approximately 60 additional jobs will be sustained across other parts of the region’s economy.
Dubai Expo 2020 expects to receive 25 million visitors over six months, with over 70 per cent of these originating outside of the UAE, making it the most international Expo in history. This offers the UAE a unique chance to showcase our country to the world and is also an invaluable opportunity for cultural exchange.
Dubai Expo 2020 would also leave a significant physical legacy in the form of the Dubai Trade Centre – Jebel Ali site, which will host many of the global events that come to Dubai each year and will also feature research facilities and a National Museum.
What makes Dubai’s bid different?
We believe that Dubai and the UAE have something different to offer. As a global hub with world-class infrastructure, Dubai catalyses the flow of people, goods, ideas, culture and development across the region and the world to allow people to understand one another, learn from one another and to work together. In this sense, we embody the spirit of World Expo.
A World Expo in Dubai in 2020 would be the first to be held in the MENASA region and would also coincide with the UAE’s Golden Jubilee. And, for the first time in the history of World Expo, as much as 70 per cent of the expected 25 million visitors would be international - stemming from beyond the host nation. This is important because Dubai Expo 2020 would offer opportunity for both the developed and the developing world.
Under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Dubai Expo 2020 would provide a unique platform for the global community to explore creative and pioneering solutions to the key drivers of global development embodied by our three subthemes: Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity.
What is the estimated cost of developing the Dubai Expo site?
Dubai Trade Centre-Jebel Ali is the proposed site for Expo 2020 and only the masterplan is complete at this stage – the construction has not yet commenced. The site is a ‘greenfield’ location and to operate its basic infrastructure we will need to be build or enhance access routes – many of which are already part of existing plans for the city. An investment of approximately 5.2 billion Euros will be required to develop citywide infrastructure, the Expo areas and its surrounding site.
What plans are there for the site after the event to ensure its positive legacy?
Dubai Trade Centre- Jebel Ali is an important part of Dubai’s continued development and therefore is an important part of Dubai’s strategy to further expand our existing business and leisure offering.
Every element of the masterplan has been designed with due consideration to its after-life and with a defined strategy for re-use, striking a balance between long-term requirements for the city as well as the six months of the 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: a state-of-the-art destination to host the many global events that come to Dubai each year and help us on our way to establishing Dubai as the number one business destination globally.
It will also feature research facilities and a National Museum – continuing the innovative work initiated by Dubai Expo 2020, attracting business and leisure visitors, and enhancing the quality of life for the population of Dubai and the wider region.
How do you personally rate Dubai’s chances of winning the bid?
The UAE’s bid to host Expo 2020 in Dubai is strong. Great care and consideration has been given to all aspects of our candidacy, including the theme, sub-themes and masterplan. We truly believe that Dubai Expo 2020 will be an Expo to remember.
However, the UAE faces strong competition and we cannot be complacent. Ultimately, it is the 167 member nations of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) who will decide.
How would you assess the performance of Dubai’s tourism sector in 2013?
Figures show that Dubai’s tourism sector continues to show a healthy rate of growth across all key indicators, including the number of hotel guests, hotel revenues, room occupancy rates and the average length of stay.
Particularly noteworthy, is the fact that in the first six months of this year, visitor numbers increased 11.1 per cent on half one (H1) 2012 to 5.5 million guests, showing that Dubai is on track to achieve our target of 20 million tourists by 2020.
Some of the key features of our tourism sector achieved important milestones or marked significant occasions in 2013. The world-class Emirates airline celebrated the fifth anniversary of the double decker A380, which has carried more than 18 million passengers, joining its fleet. Dubai International airport was ranked second internationally, in terms of international passenger traffic, and is forecast to overtake London Heathrow as number one by 2015. The development of the hotel sector continues, with a number of hotels being added in the first half of the year, bringing our total to 603, numbering more than 81,492 rooms. Crucially, these additions are a mixture of 3, 4 and 5 star, which is in line with our aim of broadening the emirate’s range of hotel offering. But even though the number of hotel rooms increased, occupancy also increased, averaging 84.6 per cent in the first half of 2013 for hotels and 85.8 per cent for hotel apartments.
It would be easy to sit back and be satisfied with the success we have had so far in Dubai. But in order to achieve our target, we must continue to increase Dubai’s offering across events, attractions, infrastructure, services and packages and showcase Dubai to an even wider audience.