Richie Santosdiaz is a UAE-based economic development advisor with a professional focus and personal passion for internationalisation and wider topics around international business.
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, Expo 2020 Dubai successfully ran from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. Foreign dignitaries such as Prince William, and the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Professor Klaus Schwab, and performers including the likes of Alicia Keys and Coldplay, were among the millions of people from around the world who visited the impressive Expo site that was specially built for the world’s largest gathering of people.
The Middle East region, and in particular the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region consisting of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, is increasingly a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and food practices, as is demonstrated by World Expo 2020 Dubai and Horticultural Expo 2023 Doha.
Through containment, adapting to live with the virus and last but not least the vaccine rollout, it is now possible to envisage a sense of normality in the global economy. With this perspective, Expo 2020 Dubai is set to be the first event of its scale to take place, serving to re-kickstart the global meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) industry as well as international tourism.
Many are aware of the United States’ history with World Expos, with the country having organised several World and Specialised Expos. In addition to Chicago – which hosted World Expos in 1893 and 1933 – another Midwestern city has hosted a World Expo: St. Louis in 1904. This is not counting the Specialised Expos that also took place in the American heartland – Expo 1982 Knoxville, which had a theme based on energy and Expo 1984 New Orleans, with a theme around rivers. The latter was the most recent Expo hosted in the United States.
Now more than ever with the Covid-19 pandemic – which will hopefully be eliminated soon – World Expos have a huge role to show to the world the innovations and the best that humanity can do.
Dubai is getting ready to host an estimated 25 million visitors for Expo 2020 Dubai. Recently, on 20 October, the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrated the one-year countdown to the Middle East’s first-ever World Expo.
The one year to go Expo 2020 launch event was held mainly at the Burj Park in the heart of downtown Dubai - home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountains and the Dubai Opera. It was a star-studded event, with live performances from Mariah Carey and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi. So popular in fact that the 7,500 tickets to the event reportedly “sold out within seconds.”
Vancouver hosted a Specialised Expo back in 1986 that transformed the sleepy city on the Pacific coast to consistently being voted as one of the most livable cities, where last year it ranked sixth. Expo 1986 propelled the largest city in the Canadian province of British Colombia (BC) on the global spotlight and accelerated the economic development that was much needed to transform it to the global player it is now. Expo 1986 is even credited with helping get BC out of recession as well, which hit the province hard especially in 1982.
How the wider horticulture sector and Expos in general highlight the importance of the industry, the challenges and future opportunities.
It is impressive to grasp the economic growth the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been through in a short amount of time and to see the current economic development across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), like in Saudi Arabia and Oman.
The UAE has not only chosen its theme to showcase to the world in October 2020 (when Expo 2020 Dubai will commence) but in practice, the country is already living and breathing it. “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” – this is the theme of Expo 2020 Dubai. Specifically, the World Expo has three subthemes – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago is often referenced as one of the most successful Expos in history. Its theme celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Particularly for those from Chicago, including myself, it is unanimously considered that the Expo left a positive legacy in our great city.
Having recently moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeing Dubai prepare for Expo 2020, both on a professional level with my work in economic development and internationalisation, as well as on a personal level, I see some immediate similarities between Chicago’s legacy of Expo 1893 and Dubai’s upcoming Expo 2020.