Dubai gears up for ‘the world’s greatest show’

Al Wasl Plaza

With just a year to go until its October 2020 launch, Expo 2020 Dubai stakeholders are leaving no stone unturned in promoting the city for “the world’s greatest show” that will be held from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021.

Sumathi Ramanathan, director of destination marketing at Expo 2020, hopes the six-month-long mega event will be a showcase of “the Olympics of culture, innovation, design and human excellence” and showcase Dubai as “a destination with a purpose”.

Expo 2020 is also set to be “a record breaking expo” in many parameters, she stated. As the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region in the event’s 168-year history, the event is set to welcome 192 participating countries and 25 million visitors – 70 per cent of which is projected to be international.

Big architecture names the likes of Santiago Calatrava, and Foster and Partners are some of the creative forces behind the globe-trotting range of pavilions, which have been themed along the lines of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability across the 4.4km² site, said Ramanathan.

The site’s centerpiece will be the Al Wasl Plaza, which will boast a dual projection screen, while other iconic landmarks include the Al Forson Park, which is conceived as a venue for major entertainment events and concerts. In addition, the expo site will also feature a brand-new metro station.

A vibrant roster of 60-plus live events each day, from A-list concerts to light shows, will guarantee that Expo 2020 is “bustling throughout 365 days”, which comes on top of 200-plus F&B venues serving up a globe-trotting plate of experiences in one destination, said Ramanathan. In addition, the National Day celebrations of the 192 participating countries each day from January 13 to April 8, 2021 is set to be another “drawcard” for international visitors.

A whole raft of experiences also await business travellers at the mega site, which will also set the stage for best-in-class business week, TED-style talks, exhibitions, forums and workshops, she added.

With such a dynamic and vibrant menu of events and programming in the line-up, Ramathan is hopeful that Expo 2020 Dubai will overturn perceptions of world expos as “tradeshows or for business travellers only”.

Working along the tourism entities in the UAE, Expo 2020 Dubai has mapped out a two-pronged global strategy to drive international visitation, with a global consumer marketing campaign just launched across 30 key markets, while a B2B2C approach will be undertaken to collaborate with some 4,000 industry partners across key source markets worldwide.

“An authorised ticket reseller programme has been launched to enable the trade to bundle and package the UAE, inclusive of the Expo 2020, as a unique experience,” informed Ramathan. Europe, China and India have been identified as among the top 10 visitor markets for the expo, while Singapore and Malaysia has been recognised as priority markets in South-east Asia, she added.

“We are interested in working with the trade in growth and frontier markets to co-create campaigns with them. Instead of going direct to consumers, we feel there is an opportunity for us to engage very closely with the OTAs or tour operators and travel agents to create consumer awareness campaigns with them,” revealed Ramathan. “We have set aside funding for co-op marketing, and we’re also providing fam trips to agents and a whole raft of training materials to help them to sell the expo.”

Ramathan hopes Expo 2020 Dubai will subvert notions that world expos are tradeshows or exclusively for business travellers

Corporate visitation will be another market Expo 2020 Dubai is keen to attract. “Incentive providers now get a six-month-only opportunity to bring corporate clients to a venue no one else has brought them to before,” said Ramathan. Not only will the expo site have several venues that can be privatised for corporate events, she added that teambuilding, incentives and meetings can be easily organised on the grounds, which also has the 48,000m² Dubai Exhibition Centre co-located within the site.

The response from the trade has been “fantastic”, said Ramathan. “We have a quite a number of enquiries from specialised groups. For example, architectural itineraries are proving to be very popular with architectural associations. We also have interest from the fintech industry for tours to look at movement of data and artificial intelligence, and also interest from businesses looking at sustainable resourcing, climate change, etc. All these topics are being explored at the world expo.”

The diverse offerings clearly make Expo Dubai a “bleisure” destination, she stated. The agency has received “excited” reactions from the trade looking to create itineraries for families, stopovers for honeymooners, students, as well as “considerable interest” from niche and specialist tour operators in food, art and entertainment seeking to “expand their business opportunities”.

When asked if this mega event will help to enable the Middle East to shed its stopover image, Ramathan said: “Expo 2020 gives good reason for the world to stop in the UAE and see the world in the UAE.”

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