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Muzaffar Rizvi / 27 February 2013
The UAE made a last-minute entry to join the competition for World Expo 2020, but it stays ahead of four other competitors due to its excellent infrastructure, unforgettable hospitality, strong Arab cultural heritage, new tourism initiatives and future growth vision of its wise leadership.
The emirate has a long history with World Expo stretching back four decades to Abu Dhabi’s participation in the 1970 Expo in Osaka, Japan. The UAE’s pavilion at World Expo 2010 attracted almost two million visitors and was among the centre of attractions during the six-month-long event in Shanghai. The regular participation in international exhibitions and positive feedback from the nations across the globe have built up a strong case for the UAE to host the mega event for the first time in this region.
Dubai — the candidate city — is no stranger to large events and exhibitions as it has a rich history welcoming millions of visitors, exhibitors and delegates at hundreds of events it hosts successfully throughout the year. The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is very strong in the emirate and it has a vast experience in host mega international events simultaneously due to its amazing infrastructure, easy connectivity, commitment of the government and excellent cultural mix.
In the last quarter of 2012, Dubai staged major international events like World Energy Forum, ITU Telecom World, Cityscape Global, Gitex, among others, in such a way that everyone praised the emirate’s hospitality and its up-to-date facilities for the MICE industry. There is no second opinion that Dubai is a commercial and financial hub in the region and Expo 2020 will be a right platform to share its successful business model with other nations. It stays ahead of competitors in the seven parameters set by the Bureau of International Exhibitions for selecting the winning city in November.
More tourist attractions
If the decision goes in favour of Dubai later this year, the government will be investing up to $4 billion in tourism, transportation and infrastructure to welcome more than 25 million international visitors during the six-month period of the expo to showcase its theme – ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The new initiatives like hanging canal, Dubai Eye, Mohammed bin Rashid Gardens, among others, are in line with the theme of Expo 2020 and will eclipse today’s landmarks due to their versatility in nature.
To stand out, the Mohammed bin Rashid Gardens project, a core feature of the Mohammed Bin Rashid City, will be 30 per cent larger than the 15.2-million-square-foot Hyde Park in London and is expected to welcome more than 35 million visitors annually upon completion. Other landmark projects announced recently will also be new tourist attractions alongside today’s landmarks like Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, The Dubai Mall etc.
Jitendra Gianchandani, chairman and managing partner of Jitendra Consulting Group, said Dubai has excellent infrastructure, advantage of location and tourist attractions to secure the bid for Expo 2020.
“This event is longer and as per the history of the previous two events, that is Expo 2005 in Japan, which attracted 22 million people and Expo 2010 in China that attracted 73 million visitors, (only five per cent were foreigners), it means Dubai has to roll up its sleeves to keep going further, but nothing is impossible.”
“Dubai has (the) passion to grow and excel; it is an example of (a) country with more than 200 nationalities and diversities. Other emirates are also very close by, accommodating such (a) big event for (a) longer time will be possible and probably that’s (the) edge. We have (a) good chance to compete with others,” Gianchandani told Khaleej Times.
Horwath Mak UAE, a renowned audit and business consulting firm, said Dubai is the ideal place to host such an event. The visitors to the expo will be thrilled not only by what the Expo has to offer, but also by the large number of other facilities Dubai has to offer to both the investor and the tourist.
“Not only does Dubai has an excellent infrastructure which is one of the best in the world, the emirate also has a vast experience in successfully hosting large events. With its skill set supported by top-rated infrastructure and experience, it is the ideal place to host such (an) event,” said Atik Munshi, managing partner of Horwath Mak UAE, a member of Crowe Horwath International.
While comparing with competitive cities — Izmir (Turkey), Ayuthayya (Thailand), Yekaterinburg (Russia) and Sao Paulo (Brazil) – Munshi said Dubai has a lot on its plate to offer the international community. Amazing infrastructure, easy connectivity, commitment of the government and excellent cultural mix are just some of the specifics.
“Not many cities in the world can boast of all these. Hence, of course, Dubai can be the top contender,” he said.
Alp Eke, senior economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, echoed the views and said Dubai is a commercial hub in the Middle East and it already has the required capability of hosting such major events on a mega scale.
“In my opinion, Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey with a population of 2.8 million, is Dubai’s strongest competitor. Izmir lost Expo 2015 bid to Milan by a small margin. The city was selected over Ankara and has an ambitious proposed theme “Redefine globalisation, balanced life and sustainable living”. If either of them—Dubai or Izmir — wins, it will be the first Islamic nation to host the expo,” he said.
Eke also shared his view on other competitive cities and said the per capita income of Ayuthayya, a city of 55,000 located 90 kilometres away from Bangkok, is the lowest amongst the five competitors. “If Thailand wins, it will be the first expo in the country. However, due to political instability, their chances are low in comparison.”
Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil’s southern hemisphere and second most populous in the Americas. Expo 2020 will be the first BIE-sanctioned event in the country. “They have very important global events lined up, Brazil will host 2014 Football World Cup followed by Summer Olympics 2016 in Rio de Janerio. The busy programme may be a disadvantage in the selection process,” Eke said.
Yekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia located 1,430 kilometres away from Moscow. Behind the Ural Mountain range is the industrial centre of Ural province. “With a less exciting main theme and remote location, the chance of selection is low,” Eke said.
Aviation scales new height
Emirates airline takes the expo campaign to the skies by putting the full force of its A380 fleet behind Dubai’s bid to land World Expo 2020. The carrier is attaching giant stickers to its A380 fleet, promoting the UAE’s bid to hold the event in Dubai in seven years’ time.
It is a hard fact that Dubai has worked tirelessly to develop aviation infrastructure in the emirate and no city in competition is in a better position to host a mega event like World Expo 2020 by connecting East and West to this part of the region with an absolute ease and comfort with affordable cost.
“Dubai International Airport will arguably be the busiest international gateway by 2020, and Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport too will almost be complete and have a capacity for over 160 million passengers a year,” Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Times.
“Simply put, airlines serving Dubai will be utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to connectivity options. Dubai is leading the way in airport growth and has been at the forefront of such development for at least 20 years,” he said.
He said Dubai is now home to the fastest growing airport in the world that will soon relegate the likes of ageing London Heathrow into third place. “The city has never had such a wonderful opportunity to show off its capabilities on a global stage like this and the World Expo could not find a better home to showcase its acumen in. It’s as if the glove is made to fit this hand and Dubai fits better than the competition... and that’s a fact,” Ahmad said.
“When you look at the four other candidate cities vying for the World Expo, none of them has the pizzazz or buzz of Dubai. None of them has that eclectic ‘pull’ or vibrancy or electricity that makes Dubai so darn unique.”
Ahmad said the emirate will be more than capable of dealing with 25 million or more visitors because the full capacity of Dubai World Central (DWC) airport which will also be coming on stream. “The current airport has a capacity for around 75 million and this will likely reach about 110 million by the time DWC is fully operational.”
To a question, he said Emirates has done a stellar job in linking any two cities in the world via Dubai. “You’d have to be utterly ignorant and insane to assume it won’t get better by 2020, if only because Emirates is only going to get bigger and up its services to even more gateways. That is an undisputable fact and one which provides even more strength to the argument that Dubai should get the Expo 2020 ahead of its lesser rivals.”
Emirates is already the fastest growing airline in the world and the only carrier to consistently report robust profits every single year (except when it started in 1985). The airline is uniquely placed to capitalise on both hubs to service the demand that Dubai will see in time for the World Expo in just a handful of years from now.
“Alongside Emirates, at the low-cost end of the market, flydubai with its sheer relentless, furious and never-ending growth too will provide even more capacity for Dubai to leverage. flydubai will be the monster that is overlooked in the capacity game as Dubai looks to provide passengers with additional travel solutions to the city as well as the wider GCC.”
“Etihad too will play its part via Abu Dhabi, but the real focus is on Dubai,” Ahmad said.
Hospitality boost a must
Wael El Behi, general manager, Ramada Downtown Dubai, said Dubai will set the perfect pace to host World Expo 2020 with their growing economy.
“With four countries to compete with, Dubai undoubtedly is the hub. There cannot be a more ideal location to host the World Expo. Dubai has left no stone unturned to play host to some of the world’s best exhibitions and conferences.
“Dubai is already a trade and logistics hub. With the city’s current way of dealing with more than 47.2 million passengers, it can play a perfect host with extreme comfort to Expo 2020,” El Behi said.
He said hotels in Dubai are in full swing and will be at their peak for Expo 2020. With the UAE, being the most booming tourist destination in the recent times with over 56 million visitors in 2012, hotels are also in line with a substantial increase every year.
“Over the next three years, more than 300 new hotels are set to open in the region. This is definitely going to increase by a large number by the time we reach 2020. A large room inventory is set to host all the expected visitors comfortably.
“Let’s include Downtown Dubai, the location of Ramada Downtown. We have more than eight luxurious hotels in this vicinity with top-notch services and style. Most hotels have joined together to maximise visibility of voting and support. Ramada Downtown has the logo of Expo 2020 in Dubai on its website and email footer directing it to the website,” El Behi said.
Habib Khan, general manager, Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa, shared a different version and said Dubai alone will not be able to contain such a large surge in demand for the rooms in spite of doubling the inventory. Neighbouring cities will equally benefit and many visitors may opt to stay in suburban or neighbouring cities.
“This will also be advisable for a sustainable development because those hotels and residences should be able to survive post-expo as well. Companies involve in development may continue to enjoy the hay time because many will move to Doha for the FIFA World Cup (2022).”
To a question, Khan said Dubai is one of the most suitable places on earth for its safety and security. Dubai has invested and continues to invest a great deal of their resources to ensure the safety and security of its residents and visitors alike. “Obviously in (the) next seven years, there will be more security measures provided to the overall civic infrastructure and will surely be able to deliver a memorable experience to the tourists.”
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