Extending Expo 2020 is not Dubai's decision

18 January 2022
Extending Expo 2020 may give organisers opportunity to further message of change and innovation

For the past three months, Expo 2020 Dubai has been a hub for bringing the world together at a time when it faces the universal challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

From high-profile visits—including one by Saudi Arabia's crown prince in December 2021— through to spotlighting innovators fighting challenges and providing entertainment for millions, the Expo has so far managed to stay true to its theme of 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future'. 

Hosting a global gathering of 192 nations, businesses and individuals amid a pandemic has not been easy.

On Sunday 16 January, Expo 2020 marked 10 million visits with great fanfare, with a special ticket entry price of AED10 to bump up the numbers another notch. 

The day also coincided with the national day of the Republic of Korea, which saw popular performers at a Korean pop or 'K-pop' concert on site.

 Why is K-pop so popular?

The UAE on the same day reported more than 3,000 new Covid-19 cases, creating a worrying juxtaposition.

Expo organisers have moved to curb the spread of the virus. Additional PCR testing centres have been set up on site, while reminders to wear masks and maintain social distancing occupy every corner of the site. But the rise in Covid-19 cases in the UAE in late December 2021, driven by the Omicron variant, has continued to disrupt Expo 2020.

 Covid concerns trouble Expo 2020

As this latest wave of Covid-19 threatens to dampen Expo 2020's ambitious plans, which once involved drawing in crowds of 25 million visitors, extending the Expo beyond 31 March this year may appear to be a practical solution for Dubai. The emirate has spent billions of dollars on new infrastructure for the event and is keen to support its tourism industry as it recovers from the pandemic. 

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However, an extension is not Dubai's decision to make alone as it requires a change in the Expo governing body's regulations. "The 1928 Paris Convention on International Exhibitions stipulates that World Expos last a maximum of six months," a Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) spokesperson tells MEED. BIE is the intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos. 

"In May 2020, member states of the BIE approved the modified opening dates of Expo 2020 Dubai as 1 October 2021-31 March 2022. The BIE Convention thus does not permit the extended opening of Expo 2020 Dubai, nor of any other Expo."

Rarely have World Expos been disrupted in the past, with the exception of the 1939 New York World's Fair held across two seasons and ultimately disrupted by World War II. 

Logistical difficulties

Conventional norms aside, extending a World Expo would require buy-ins from all stakeholders. Conversations with country delegates reveal that plans are already in place to dismantle self-built pavilions and tickets for staff to return home have been confirmed. 

The operational costs of country pavilions will further limit interest in an extension. For instance, the Austria pavilion in 2019 said its overall budget for Expo 2020, including construction and operations, was €16.48m ($18.82m). In 2021, the budget was revised to €17.8m ($20.3m) due to the delays caused by Covid-19. 

Similarly, the New Zealand pavilion had an overall budget of $53m in 2019, later raised to $61.3m in 2021. 

It would be difficult for nations to justify any additional expenses.

Summer months

The end of Expo 2020 Dubai on 31 March will be immediately followed by the holy month of Ramadan, which is most likely to begin on 2 April. It is prohibited for adults to eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan in the UAE. The period would also mark the start of summer, a challenging time to host any outdoor events. Both of these would make it tough to extend Expo 2020 beyond its set dates.

And lastly, plans for District 2020 have already been made public. The urban, human-centric city is set to open its doors in October 2022, six months from the conclusion of  the expo.

Extending Expo 2020 beyond 31 March 2022 may appear to be a practical solution for Dubai, but with bureaucratic and budgetary hurdles for the organisers and other participating countries, it will likely remain a hypothetical discussion for now.

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