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What winning Expo 2020 means to Dubai, Middle East

Oliver Ebel / 27 November 2013

The world exposition, also known as World’s Fair, is one of the world’s oldest international events and is the largest gathering of people on the planet.

To host nations, however, it’s much more than a gathering: it’s a landmark event that holds a sense of pride and joy for nationals, and an opportunity to showcase the brightest talents and new inventive landmarks the country has to offer. Here’s what Dubai, and the Middle East, stand to gain from hosting Expo 2020, and why Dubai the UAE is well-positioned to be the next host nation.

As the UAE holds its breath ahead of the Bureau International des Expositions’ member countries’ decision as to which country will host the next World Expo today, I would like to take a look at what the country has achieved over the past decade, in turn positioning itself as the leader of the pack in the running to win the right to be called host nation of Expo 2020, and what hosting the Expo would mean to the nation and its people, as well as the Middle East region as a whole.

The UAE has strongly positioned itself as the Middle East’s top trading economy, with a fiscal surplus of $11 billion in 2011. It was able to do so by heavily investing in infrastructures ranging from transport to tourism, connectivity and ICT, and in turn becoming a dynamic hub for global commerce and the link between the East and West.

In 2012, the UAE had more than 57 million visitors walk through its airport terminals. By 2015, the country expects to have the world’s largest international airports in terms of footfall, all in a country that is all of 83,600sqkm.

Boasting one of the fastest-growing economies in the world — the Ministry of Finance estimates that the nominal GDP rose by 20.8 per cent in 2012 to $360 billion, compared with $298 billion in 2011 — the UAE not only relies on its rich resources in natural gas and petroleum, but has developed and diversified the local economy to encompass construction, transportation and ICT, as well as becoming a central player in international trade.

In a larger context, the World Expo has become central to showcasing countries’ successes and a driver for economic growth and potential business opportunities with global players. The Shanghai World Expo in 2010 involved 192 countries and 50 international organisations and was the most expensive World Fair in history. The Expo recorded 73 million visitors, the highest number of visitors at an Expo, and cost the host nation 11.96 billion yuan ($1.89 billion) to run the event. China made an operating profit of more than 13 billion yuan, exceeding its investment and demonstrating the positive economic impact a host nation with a strong national infrastructure can generate.

The UAE, like China, has invested heavily in infrastructure growth, particularly in ICT. A recent executive report on UAE ICT by the Kuwait Financial Centre found that the UAE is the second-largest ICT market in the GCC after Saudi Arabia in terms of capital and volume of spending.

Between 2003 and 2010, ICT spending has grown at a compound annual growth rate of almost 19 per cent to reach a value of $12 billion. ICT spending for the period between 2013 and 2015 is expected to be about $40 billion in the UAE, of which approximately $30.4 billion will be in communications.

As a matter of fact, the region’s ICT spend is expected to reach $318 billion for the period between 2011 and 2015, something that has already started simply thanks to network and infrastructure upgrades in order to accommodate fiber optic connection and LTE mobile connection.

What does this all mean for companies like Lenovo, and how can Expo 2020 help the growth of the tech industry in the region? As a start, building up to Expo 2020 means there’s a drive for innovation from local and international investors, increased infrastructure capabilities and business expansion to meet consumer demands. Over the past decade, there’s been a shift in consumer spending thanks largely to new technology and developing ICT infrastructure such as LTE telecommunications networks, which has been a driving force behind smartphone and tablet adoption across the region.

Lenovo has become the No. 1 PC company worldwide and its goal is to become the leader in what we call the PC+ era, focusing on a new vision in product design and functionality. It’s this strategy that made Lenovo the number one PC supplier in the world according to both IDC and Gartner, and the world’s third-largest smartphone supplier (Gartner, third quarter of FY 2013-14) and the fastest growing supplier, with growth of 84.5 per cent year-to-year. That trend continues for us in the UAE, where Lenovo has achieved a record 18 per cent PC market share (IDC, second quarter of FY 2013-14). Lenovo’s is confident that when Dubai wins the bid for Expo 2020, organisations, within all sectors, will reap enormous benefits.

In a larger context, Expo 2020 will drive companies to invest more in the Middle East and garner the rewards of one of the fastest-growing ICT market in the world. In 1990, Internet penetration in the UAE was zero per cent. By 2012, this had increased to 85 per cent, surpassing the United States, South Korea and Japan.  The trend is similar in mobile subscriptions, with the UAE enjoying close to 170 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants by 2012, one of the highest in the world.  For companies like Lenovo, the potential to help develop the ICT market and grow the country’s ICT resources are virtually endless.

Dubai has put the Middle East on the map in terms of investment, market growth, ICT development and generally as the logistical hub of the region. In the year 2020, let’s make the UAE the first nation in the Middle East to host the World Expo, and help push the country — and the city of Dubai — to greater heights.

The writer is the vice-president and general manager of Lenovo Middle East and Africa. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.


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