United Arab Emirates
Significance of Expo 2020 for the UAE’s Economy 16 Dec 2013
by Mohammed Abdel Rahman Al-Asoomi

As the curtain comes down on the competition among four cities to host the Expo 2020, and Dubai’s comprehensive victory, efforts have now begun in the UAE to prepare for the mega global event. Focus is also shifting on how to ensure that the local economy benefits from the opportunities the event presents, to businesses in general and non-oil sectors in particular, in addition to the services sector. Figures suggesting advantages of hosting such an event, and the number of jobs it is likely to create, have been revealed time and again. However, it makes sense to consider the significance of this victory, its far-reaching consequences and other related aspects.

At the outset, it should be noted that this victory hasn’t been achieved in isolation. The quality of infrastructure in the country – particularly air transport, hotel and tourism sectors, and general facilities for visitors – were not matched by any other city competing to host this event. This justified the large percentage of votes garnered by Dubai, exceeding 71 percent. So many countries competed to host the Expo simply because there are significant economic, cultural, technological and promotional gains to be had from the event. Some of these benefits, such as attracting capital, boosting growth and creating jobs, are immediate. Besides, there are long-term benefits such as enhancing the UAE’s economic, commercial and strategic position on the new international economic landscape and supporting diversification of the economy and moving it away from dependence on oil.

Short-term gains

There has been an upsurge in the local and foreign investments in Dubai and the UAE following the announcement of the Expo 2020 victory. The private sector has announced implementation of several development and real estate projects. This is besides previously announced government projects to the tune of AED25 billion, which is set to supply the local economy with significant benefits and attract more foreign investments. Real estate and capital markets (both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai) have registered growth during the same period. Even though some investors, holding local and foreign portfolios, have tried to exploit the situation by resorting to speculation to make quick profits, they have not succeeded as the markets have remained stable and maintained gains.

Besides adding to the reputation globally, winning the Expo has boosted the image of Dubai and other cities in the UAE. These cities have enhanced their reputation of being favorite and unique destinations for investment, tourism and trade. The UAE is being increasingly viewed as the country where aspirations related to job opportunities and quality of life can be fulfilled. All this means better growth for several sectors in times to come, especially the tourism and transportation sectors. Millions around the world are now looking to visit the UAE and become familiar with the country that has dazzled the world on several occasions and has two-thirds of the skyscrapers in the Middle East.

Long-term gains

There are major gains to be had in the long run as this Expo win serves the broader strategic vision of the UAE. It will give impetus to the country’s development objectives, which are aimed at strengthening its position as a hub of finance, business and transportation, and a global, logistics link between East and West, North and the South. Implementing further infrastructure projects in preparation of Expo 2020 will lead to further advancements, including roads, metro stations, hotels, entertainment destinations, shopping centers and transport, particularly air transport.

A glimpse of this trend could be seen in the kind of inquiries made and orders placed by the country’s airlines at the Dubai Air Show in November. Since more than 17 million people are expected to visit during Expo 2020, it will require a doubling of air transport infrastructure. The process of fulfilling these requirements is bound to further propel the UAE’s large corporations to very high ranking, which will definitely be a big gain for the UAE transportation and tourism sectors.

Once the Expo 2020 is complete, the infrastructure projects carried out to make the event successful will end up supporting public utilities, which in turn will raise the level of services being provided in the country. Considering that an Expo is associated with technological innovations, they are likely to be part of Expo 2020 and contribute toward economic and education sectors in the UAE. New technologies are the key to knowledge economy and countries around the world are looking to integrate information, communications and technology with education and manufacturing sectors.

This is also going to be a great opportunity for the UAE to indigenize modern technologies and give its nationals and residents the chance to gain now knowledge that can be harnessed in the future in support of economic and technological transformations in the country. This becomes even more relevant considering that the UAE Vision 2030 includes focusing on the knowledge economy to diversify sources of revenue. Consequently, hosting the Expo 2020 is set to be a key milestone for the UAE’s long-term strategic objectives.

Considering these short and long term gains, it is obvious that Expo 2020, for which Dubai and the UAE devoted significant time and effort, is not going to be a regular event but a mega show that will last for six months. It promises to bring economic, technological and cultural benefits that justify the attention that has been given to it in a country that is used to staging successful events of international scale. The UAE has had the confidence of the international community in the country in organizing such events, which in itself has proved to be a great advantage.

The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the ECSSR