Expo 2020: Turning a win into triumph
It is said to truly comprehend the significance of a defining moment one must take a step back and watch it from a distance. That experience is akin to watching a play from backstage with an impartial but highly attuned eye and ear for each nuance as it unfolds.
Today, as the UAE celebrates Dubai’s successful bid to host World Expo 2020, perhaps it is befitting to take a step back in time to gain a true perspective of what the city’s win signifies.
Dubai, indeed, is now entering a brand-new realm of growth with the successful bid. More than $8.1 billion will be invested in building new infrastructure, and some 25 million tourists, nearly 70 per cent of them international visitors, are expected during the six months of World Expo 2020. Over 277,000 jobs are projected to be created in the next seven years, with the bulk being in hospitality, services and construction.
Much has been written about why Dubai has always been the right choice, and why it would have been a significant loss not for the city, but indeed for the world itself, if it were not selected.
Dubai’s geographic location, world-class infrastructure, and the planned investments that will go into creating a dynamic environment for hosting the event are undoubtedly factors that considerably raised the odds in its favour.
These are tangibles that can be measured against real and actual benchmarks. But when you step back, you see the intangibles, the true driving forces that are less discussed but no less significant or influential.
Let us rewind to the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. It was arguably here that the opportunity and potential for hosting the Expo in the UAE could have been seeded.
Dubai’s showcase of the Burj Khalifa, the iconic tower that launched the city to the front pages of international dailies, was among the most talked-about attraction at Shanghai. The UAE’s pavilion, distinguished by an elegant design, also captivated audiences.
The Expo 2010 was held during a challenging period for the entire world, immediately following the painful aftermath of the global financial crisis. Dubai, an open economy and a key player in the global business dynamics, too experienced the after-shocks.
Cynical writers came up with derisive headlines in their limited understanding of the ‘Dubai model’. The Dubai story is different, and to understand it, one has to feel and experience the reality.
The architectural icons and infrastructure that define the city today — the Dubai Metro, the airport expansion, the new malls and hotels and other major recreational developments — were built or planned during the so-called crisis years, which enabled the city to come out of the challenges stronger and more stable.
That is the first take-away from Dubai’s successful bid: Persevere, even in the face of challenges. While others paused to inaction, Dubai didn’t rest or hesitate but resorted to action that defied norms.
As His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, observes in his book, Flashes of Thought: “Positive energy turns hard times into beautiful moments, hardships into manageable challenges and the impossible into nothing more than a word or a point of view.”
Today, at a GDP growth rate that is estimated to be 4.7 per cent in the second quarter of this year, Dubai has demonstrated that its fundamentals are in place, and that it has weathered the lows of the economic cycle. The successful bid will further accelerate economic growth, projected to grow at a year-on-year average of 6.4 per cent over the next four years and 10.5 per cent from 2018 to 2021. To put things in perspective, even without the Expo bid, the GDP growth average would still be significant at 5.5 to 6.7 per cent.
For Dubai, it was and has been all about building the fundamentals. Over the years, the city has invested in strengthening its core economic sectors, which were not based on the fortune from oil revenue. The city, with unwavering commitment, has built its tourism, aviation, hospitality, retail, education and knowledge economy sectors, which today makes the city a magnet for investors and tourists from around the world.
The figures tell the story: In the first half of this year, trade value increased 16 per cent year on year and exports grew 22 per cent. Passenger traffic through the Dubai airports swelled by 16 per cent and the number of tourists grew 9.8 per cent in the first nine months of the year.
The transformational growth of Dubai’s core economic sectors continues to a catalytic influence on the economy, creating opportunities for the city’s 200-plus nationalities residents.
What all these have done is more than create a physical environment for growth. They instilled a sense of belonging in residents. Today, Dubai is not just a second home for its visitors – long-term or short haul. It is home. That takes us to the second unique value proposition of Dubai: Here is a responsible city that builds its future today, while valuing the genuine welfare of its people.
Across Dubai’s development narrative, the one constant that has never wavered is the determination factor. Developments are not just planned, they are realised.
Be it the world’s tallest building, the world’s longest driverless metro or the opening of a new passenger terminal, what is committed is delivered. That is the third key intangible: Here is a city that walks the talk and delivers on its commitment without excuses.
vWhat makes Dubai the true winner, irrespective of whether it won the bid for the Expo or not, is the genuine emphasis that is placed on the happiness of people. Providing a secure and safe environment, the city welcomes visitors from around the world with an open mind.
There is a genuine feeling of camaraderie that one feels in Dubai, which big cities seldom offer. And that stems from the positivity that abounds in the city. Here in this city one is continuously inspired to believe that ‘no challenge will stand in the way of a positive person in achieving his or her goal’.
In fact, that could also have been the clincher for Dubai. Here is a city that dreams, believes in itself and ensures that its goals are realised through an inclusive process that benefits its residents.