Dubai will wow the world in 2020

People underestimated Brisbane. Even the organisers only budgeted on 7.5 million people attending.

By Talal Yassine

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Published: Mon 23 May 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 23 May 2016, 9:40 AM

It has been almost two and a half years since the announcement that Dubai had won the right to hold the World Expo in 2020. Back in November of 2013, all of the UAE (including me - I happened to be in Dubai) waited for the news.
Then, with great fanfare, collectively began a celebration that lasted for at least the rest of the year.
I have to say the UAE minister of state Reem Al Hashimi's campaign and work in this area should be an MBA study on how to win Expos. Her articulation of the benefits of Dubai as a potential host, internal and external stakeholder management, and adding that touch of the 'X' factor she so effectively deployed, made the bid so compelling it was something to behold.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Australia, 2013 saw a commemoration of our own world expo, held 25 years earlier in Queensland's capital city, Brisbane. The commemorative celebrations were a lot less subdued, but the pride felt by Australians as they remembered Expo 88 has not diminished with time.
The following statement might be difficult to comprehend at first, but I'd appreciate it if you would humour me when I say: "When it comes to the experience of hosting a world exposition, Brisbane and Dubai are more similar than people think".
I offer this observation primarily as an avid supporter of the event, not someone who about to try to impose their ideas on what Dubai should do next.
Dubai probably doesn't need my help anyway - it has all the resources and abundant talent it needs to make Dubai 2020 an event that might just end up in global-festival folklore. Anything I have to add about organising would likely just involve a bias toward barbequed Australian beef kebabs, and perhaps the inclusion of a 20 metre tall Kangaroo!
Instead, this idea of similarity stems from a sense of shared identity.
It is an intangible concept that will only truly be realised by the citizens of the UAE in the years and decades after the final fireworks have been lit, and the gates are closed on the expo site for the last time.
Expo 88 fundamentally changed not only how Australia and indeed the world viewed Brisbane, but also how the people of Brisbane viewed themselves. Brisbane residents have always been fiercely proud of their city, but the expo offered a global validation that said, loud and proud, "Brisbane is one of the best places on the planet".
It is this sense of validation and identity that makes me so excited about Dubai 2020. Dubai knows it is a great city, and now the rest of the world will have the opportunity to see Dubai as more than an exciting stopover. Visitors will feel the pride of Dubai's citizens as their expo showcases the wonders, and future, of the world we all live in. Just like Brisbane did 32 years before.
While much of the structural aspects of the event have made way for further development, it was Expo88 that thrust Brisbane toward the city it is today - a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.
Businesses who might have overlooked Brisbane flocked to set up in the post-expo city in droves. Tourism, even though it was strong before 1988, gained even more momentum. Coffee shops sprang up next to towers of new financial and legal firms. Brisbane really became a destination, rather than just somewhere to visit.
People underestimated Brisbane. Even the organisers only budgeted on 7.5 million people attending. To their surprise, they received more than double that number from all over the world. All of whom made the trek to a remote Australian city.
Dubai's organisers should take heed of that. The estimating that 25 million people will come to the expo, a city at the centre of the world's air traffic, a city that already attracts tourists by the A380 load who don't have the benefit of an expo to wonder at.
If I'm right abo­ut the similarities between Expo88 and Dubai 2020, I think 25 million people will just be a drop in the bucket.
The author is chairman of the Council of Australian-Arab Relations, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade

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