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Expo 2020 legacy to swell Dubai’s economic growth

Expo Dubai Expo City Dubai Media Centre
Expo City Dubai has launched the first phase of its new residential developments planned as smart and sustainable city living
  • Events businesses, hospitality and construction all benefit
  • Expo City Dubai developed for green urban living and free zone
  • Location will host Cop28 summit through December

Events organisations and business services are expected to benefit most from Dubai hosting the 2020 World Expo.

A report issued on Friday from consultancy firm EY said the events sector – at AED75.5 billion ($20.6 billion) – is forecast to contribute the most gross value add (GVA) to the UAE’s economy.

The calculation is based from the time of the successful bid to host Expo in 2013 through to 2042.

Taimur Khan, head of research at CBRE, said the Exhibition Centre at the Expo site is ready to supplement events already taking placing at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

He told AGBI: “We’ve seen how successful the DWTC has been. We’ll definitely see more activity in the events space down there.”

DWTC hosted 1.98 million delegates in 2022, up 29 percent year-on-year. There were 244 meetings, conferences and exhibitions, business and consumer events.

Of these, 97 exhibitions and conferences attracted 1.18 million attendees of which 38 percent were from overseas. 

Other sectors set to reap the rewards of the international event – which ran from October 1 2021 to March 31 2022 after being delayed a year due to the pandemic – include construction (AED31.9 billion) and restaurants and hotels (AED23.1 billion).

The report claims the overall legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai will reach AED154.9 billion across that 29-year time period.

The pre-event phase contributed around one quarter of GVA, the event itself added almost 13 percent, while the lion’s share of economic benefits – 62 percent – will be felt in the legacy phase through to 2042, the report estimated.

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and CEO of Expo City Dubai Authority, described the event as a “milestone that is boosting our nation’s economy, and whose ripple effects are continuing to enhance our city’s profile”.

It is also expected to support the full-time equivalent (FTE) of approximately 1.39 million job-years, equal to more than 35,000 FTE jobs per annum in the UAE over the same period. 

The World Expo, which was the first to be held in the Middle East, hosted 192 countries from across the globe and welcomed 24.1 million visits during its six-month run.

“From a marketing perspective and to put Dubai on the map, it’s been incredibly successful,” Khan said.

Expo 2020 Dubai was delayed for 12 months as a result of the Covid pandemic and launched amid strict health and safety guidelines at a time when travel restrictions from a number of countries were in place.

Justin Alexander, director of Khalij Economics and Gulf analyst for GlobalSource Partners, said tourist numbers over the six-month period were down by around a fifth from pre-Covid levels.

“However, the event still contributed materially to the broader post-Covid economic recovery and will have supported the economy both directly and by raising Dubai’s international profile and introducing newcomers to the emirate, some of whom become repeat visitors, residents or even property owners and investors,” Alexander said.

Dimitri S. Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the organisation behind the World Expo, said: “Rooted in a shared vision for a socially and environmentally conscious future, Expo 2020 Dubai, and now Expo City Dubai, constitute an indisputable platform for sustainable development in the UAE and further afield.”

Manal AlBayat, chief engagement officer of Expo City Dubai, highlighted the “significant” contribution made to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In 2016 Expo 2020 committed to award at least 20 percent of spending to this market.

“This promise was exceeded, with more than AED6.8 billion – a quarter of all Expo 2020 contracts in terms of value – being awarded to SMEs,” said AlBayat.

Since the event Expo City Dubai has repurposed more than 80 percent of the infrastructure at the site. Nearly one-third of the site has been built so far.

Expo City Dubai will soon unveil plans for sustainable residential developments as part of a “green” urban planning blueprint.

These projects will include apartments, townhouses and villas, allowing residents to live in the heart of the legacy city, an integral hub in the Dubai 2040 urban master plan.

expo City Dubai
Following Expo 2020, the location is progressing as a centre for living, work and recreation. Picture Expo City Dubai

Ahmed Al Khatib, chief development and delivery officer of Expo City Dubai, said the site is to be transformed into the emirate’s newest business free zone – and is being lined up as a possible venue for more of the world’s biggest events.

“We are in the review stage now with the relevant authorities to ensure that the offering we have is competitive with the other free zones,” he said in June last year.

The venue is set to play host to the UN Cop28 climate summit from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

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