DubaiExpo2020: Impact of Postponement

Proudly plastered on merchandise, billboards and even planes, the name #DubaiExpo2020 is here to stay but the World is looking forward to #DubaiExpo2021. However  While the ‘World’s Greatest Show’ will not be welcoming visitors for another year, we consider the impact of the pandemic on the Expo’s construction and chances of success.

As Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. said: “If one’s point of view is positive, the challenges of the future become opportunities.”

Visitor numbers 

“Nobody has a crystal ball, nobody knows exactly which date the WHO will announce that this pandemic is behind us and we can all get on with things,” – Helal Al Marri, Director General of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

The Expo was expected to attract 25 million visitors in half a year, a significant boost to the economy. While industry insiders are confident that the tourism sector can bounce back, it is not clear if the 2021 Expo can expect the same numbers as before.

There is optimism from Al Marri, who claims there is “latent” demand for travel to Dubai, with a “spike” in travel predicted. He adds: “We do expect tourism to really come back to what it was, in a very fast manner, after this is over.”

Yet a slow but steady return to normality can be expected, Dubai International Airport’s CEO told Associated Press. Passenger numbers have recently risen to over 1 million per month — less than 15% of last year’s figure. In the Middle East as a whole, passenger numbers are set to increase to 90 million next year, compared to 203 million last year, says the International Air Transport Association.(#ITA)

Departing from previous World Expos, Dubai Expo planned for a 70% foreign audience. Under the current climate, achieving 17.5 million overseas visitors could be considered highly optimistic. According to InPark world fairs expert James Ogul, “the UAE has invested a huge amount ($9 billion) banking on an attendance model that has never been tried.”

Site Construction

Covid-19 could cause supply chain and shipping delays, as well as affect on-site logistics, says Ogul. The 12-month wait could mean vendor budgets will have to be revised, he adds. Cost-cutting has already led to an undisclosed number of job losses at the Expo site.

The extended time frame could benefit any Pavilions that are behind schedule. Alternatively, it could mean that recently completed, ‘mothballed’ buildings might need touch-ups by 2021.

Finland, for instance, has halted its building schedule. Its core Pavilion structure is finished and protected from the elements. Only later will the external cladding and interior paintwork and fittings be added.“ This will allow us to maintain the building’s health throughout the extension period and ensure we showcase a fresh pavilion,” said Severi Keinälä, Expo Commissioner General of Finland.

Rescheduling such a colossal event may more throw spanners in the works for Expo organizers, who are battling unprecedented circumstances.

Long-term Legacy

It was always hoped that the Dubai Expo would leave a legacy, by galvanising economic activity across multiple sectors. Some 80% of its structure will be repurposed as District 2020, a smart-city and Centre of Excellence for culture, education, innovation and entertainment.

Postponement will inevitably dampen the economy, Managing Director of United Distribution Agency UAE, Sadegh Zahedi, told Mehr News Agency. “It will affect hospitality first, and then will affect retailers, entertainment, and indirectly banking, finance, infrastructure, and all other sections of economy consequently,” he said.

However, there is also great room for optimism. The delayed Expo is ”a silver lining around the dark Covid-19 cloud,” says Finland’s Severi Keinala. “After a downturn there will always be an upswing,” he said. Expo positivity should be accompanied with “a strong rebound in transactional activity,” predicts property consultants Savills.

Dubai Expo 2021, as an chance to meet the pandemic head-on, cannot fail to strike a chord, with 190 participating countries responding with boldness and ingenuity.

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