Dubai’s COVID-delayed Expo 2020 has announced itself to the world with an extravagant opening ceremony headlined by British pop star Ellie Goulding and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
The largest city in the oil-rich UAE made its World’s Fair debut on Thursday night. The event, which was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but retained its original name, begins on Friday and runs until March 31, 2022.
It is the first expo for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and one of the largest events in the world to take place amid the pandemic after the Summer Olympics in Tokyo without spectators.
The 1,080-hectare Expo 2020 site, which includes pavilions from 192 countries, has been slowly taking shape in the middle of a desolate stretch of sand on the outskirts of Dubai since the city won a bid for the mega event in 2013.
Its opening ceremony, curated by Belgian theater director Franco Dragan – known for his work with Cirque du Soleil – took a select group of VIP guests in attendance on a high-tech journey through the natural world .
The event was attended by 900 artists and approximately 1,000 crew from 64 countries. Organizers billed it as “the most impressive show in the world”, with 252 projectors screening images at the 130-metre-wide, 67-metre-long Al Wasl Dome, the “jewel in the Expo Crown”.
In addition to Golding and Bocelli, who performed just one song each, Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, Saudi singer Mohamed Abdo, Chinese pianist Lang Lang and American singer Andra Dey also took to the stage for the event. The allegory-heavy show follows the story of a young girl, who is the epitome of “hope”.
That expectation can also be seen as a metaphor for the expectations that Dubai will give at Expo 2020 to give its economy a much-needed boost and help it move away from its reliance on oil.
Dubai hopes the expo will boost the economy
The country’s economy suffered a setback when its real estate market crashed following the global financial crisis, and it has since tried to establish itself as a center of tourism and business.
Historic social reforms announced in 2019 freed alcohol, suicide and premarital living with a member of the opposite sex, while new long-term visas – five-year, 10-year, retirement and “golden” visas for VIPs – were allow to settle. In a country that was previously out of bounds for foreigners to permanently settle in. Remote working visas announced amid the pandemic seek to entice digital nomads to take advantage of the UAE’s tax-free, five-star lifestyle.
Tourism-dependent Dubai opened its doors to international tourists in July 2020 after a brief, but strict, lockdown and is aggressively marketing itself as a safe travel destination in the lead-up to the expo.
The UAE has reported 735,992 cases of COVID-19 and 2,097 deaths, but has been spared from a more serious outbreak by its young population and large number of hospital beds. It also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – but it was also an early adopter of the Chinese Sinoform vaccine, which has raised doubts about its efficacy.
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On the other hand, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, which is just an hour’s drive by road from Dubai, shut itself off from the rest of the country at the start of the pandemic – barring international tourists and erecting a land border. , which requires a negative COVID-19 test to pass. Abu Dhabi has been largely affected by the fallout of the pandemic by its sovereign wealth fund, which manages its oil reserves and is worth about US$700 billion.
With Expo 2020 opening on Friday, Dubai has largely relaxed its COVID-19 physical-distancing and capacity rules, but it bans dancing and mandates that masks be worn both indoors and outdoors To be worn The temperature in the United Arab Emirates currently reaches around 38 °C in the middle of the day
While Expo 2020 initially said that visitors would not need vaccinations to attend the event, it backtracked a few weeks later, announcing that proof of vaccination or a valid PCR test would be required. An on-site COVID-19 testing station offers visitors a free PCR test with results within six hours, or a quick test for 125 AEDs. ($43 cdn), with results available within 15 to 30 minutes.
Pre-pandemic, expo organizers have estimated 25 million visitors to the event in its six-month tenure. That number hasn’t been adjusted for its new dates and circumstances, but organizers are referring to “25 million visits” since then, which would include repeat visitors and people watching online. The expo’s digital offering has become a cornerstone of the event, and Dubai reportedly wants these visitors to be included in its overall attendance numbers.
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The city is desperate for its visitation numbers to be a success, with discounted tickets and cheap ones easy to come by. Those who fly on Emirates Airline, the major UAE carrier, are given a free Expo 2020 ticket along with their airfare. There are dozens of single-day and discount passes, along with five free season passes to each of the expo staff.
Free passes were given to several Dubai entities, and Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed announced this week that Dubai government employees would get six paid days off to visit the site.
Star power used for message sharing
In 2019, auditors EY estimated that the event would contribute more than US$33.4 billion to the country’s economy between 2013 and 2031, adding that it would “enhance millions of people around the world to travel to the UAE in 2020.” will encourage” and “will also encourage travel and tourism” and support economic diversification for years.”
Those forecasts have not been updated to take into account the pandemic. EY estimated construction projects for the expo will cost the UAE alone US$7 billion.
With so much riding on the event, the country has roped in some of the biggest stars in the world to share their message. Argentine football star Lionel Messi is a global ambassador, and a CGI-heavy advert featuring Australian actor Chris Hemsworth was released in recent weeks, set to Willy Wonka Featuring a host of kids dancing across the screen without the theme tune and face masks. A disclaimer in one corner reads: “This ad was filmed in 2019.”
Emirates aircraft and public transport in the city have carried the Expo logo over the years.
But Dubai’s “business as usual” pandemic strategy may be paying off.
Despite laying off thousands of employees in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, Emirates Airline is ramping up its flight routes, hiring thousands of employees on unpaid leave and asking them if they would like to reapply. Dubai’s real estate market is said to be on a rebound after years of record-low rents, fueled by the simple perception of potential outside investment from visitors at Expo 2020.
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But although world’s fairs were once historic events for the host city and a chance to showcase unprecedented technology (electricity, telephones, baby incubators, clean energy cars and X-ray machines were unveiled at world’s fairs), recently Exposure Heaven did not receive the same attention as their predecessors.
However, Dubai believes that its legacy will not necessarily be tangible and may be more about bilateral agreements and diplomatic negotiations.
But it has also spawned the world’s largest Ferris wheel, perpetuating the theme of the world’s years’ fairs (Seattle’s Space Needle and Paris’s Eiffel Tower built to mark their own expo Was). Ain Dubai, at 250 metres, has wrecked the world’s first tallest wheel – the 167-metre High Roller in Las Vegas – but it has been plagued with delays due to rumored design flaws that need repair.
Parts of the expo site will be retained and overtake the event, with District 2020 becoming the future-focused and technological hub for Dubai. However, most of the country’s pavilions will be demolished.
Canada’s offering at the event is located in the Sustainability District (the expo has three districts – the other two being Mobility and Opportunity) and was designed by Toronto-based Moriyama & Teshima Architects.
The pavilion is a circular, latticework wooden structure that cost the country $21 million, and is “inspired by Canadian landscape and Middle Eastern architectural elements.”