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World Expos that have been held over the past 170 years provide a unique platform where people from different cultures can meet. They are also important for exchanging experiences and showcasing human achievements from all countries. Expos have a lasting impact after their typical six-month duration. They positively boost the host country’s economy and the global economy at large. Several World Expos, which have been held over the past years, support the host country’s global image and boost its soft power externally. This is a result of the country’s ability to host and organize exhibitions; its state-of-the-art infrastructure; developed economy; and general behavior throughout the event duration. Hence, this boosts its global image and supports its regional and global influence.

Future Icons

Countries that have hosted Expos before were keen to make their experience unforgettable in the history of World Expos, in a way that supports their global reputation and enhances their global position.

1- Japan’s consolidation of the environmental aspect of Expos: Japan’s hosting of the Expo in 2005 in Aichi Prefecture focused on aligning the hosting process with the event’s theme "Nature’s Wisdom." Japan constructed the Expo site using separate units that could be used later for other buildings. The Expo also comprised several technologies inspired by its theme, such as recycling wooden waste into devices including a fully wooden Japanese watch. Japan’s Expo also showcased textiles that change their temperature, from being cool in summer to warm in winter, just like pine cones. There were also robots that cleaned tiles, collected garbage, maintained security, directed visitors, took care of children and helped People of Determination.

Japan was already famous for its advanced technologies, rich culture, and knowledge growth, but still its hosting of Expo 2005 came as an inspiration for all countries in terms of its accuracy, excellence and creativity. Expo 2005 contributed to enhancing Japan’s global position as a technological, economic, and educational leader.

2- Promoting the concept of "The Best City" in Shanghai: Shanghai’s hosting of the Expo 2010 enhanced China’s global image, especially for its organizational capacity and hosting more than 73 million visitors, the largest number of visitors in Expo history. China also allocated a separate space extending over 150,000 square meters on the banks of Huangpu River, which is one of the best urban areas. This was a direct reflection of the Expo 2010 theme "Better City – Better Life." China also extended its helping hands to developing countries that struggled to build their pavilions at the Expo 2010.

Organizing Expo 2010 in Shanghai imposed a special challenge as it came two years after China’s successful hosting of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Its success in hosting Expo 2010 altered its global image while strengthening its position as a key commercial partner in the future, especially in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008.

3- Using tourism for interactions among different cultures: The tourism sector benefits the most from World Expos, not only for the economic benefits it brings but also for promoting the host country as a travel destination, whether through the six months of its duration or later on.

Expo Hanover in 2000 attracted 18.1 million visitors to a tranquil touristic destination – unlike other bustling German cities such as Berlin, Bonn, and Frankfurt. This was a qualitative leap for the country’s tourism sector. Expo 2005 in Japan attracted 22 million visitors, exceeding the target number of visitors, which was 15 million visitors. Moreover, its revenues were allocated for developing the tourism sector.

Expo 2010 in Shanghai had a profound effect on the tourism sector in China and particularly Shanghai. It attracted 73 million visitors, which increased the total revenues for Shanghai from tourism to 13%. Moreover, Expo 2010 promoted Shanghai as a better city and a desired touristic destination. It still preserves some of the Expo buildings, such as the inverted red pyramid of China’s pavilion, which has become a touristic attraction.

Expo 2015, which was held in Milan, Italy, boosted the city’s exposure to the world and increased the number of tourists. Reports indicate that Expo 2015 has achieved revenues up to USD 10 billion, half of which were allocated to the tourism sector, with Milan and Lombardi getting the lion’s share of these revenues. Moreover, 200,000 jobs were created in the tourism sector.

The number of tourists in Italy increased by 7 million tourists in 2015. The total number of tourists has reached 113.4 million tourists according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics.

4- Joining the "Expo Cities" international group: an Expo does not only impact the host country, but also impacts the particular cities where it is held. This gives the city an international prominence, such as Expo Aichi 2005; Expo Shanghai 2010; and Expo Dubai 2020.

Selecting a city for hosting the Expo creates radical changes in it internally and externally. Shanghai was transformed in order to host the Expo, with significant progress in infrastructure ahead of the Expo start date. Several areas were also renovated and new entertainment areas were created, in addition to increasing the attractiveness of touristic sites.

Shanghai’s success in hosting Expo 2010 promoted it as a new capital for the global economy and also promoted China as a great power regionally and internationally. Ever since, it has become an important touristic destination for all those visiting China. Shanghai allocated an area within Expo 2010 for the "World Expo Museum," which was inaugurated in 2017 to become the world’s only place for displaying the history of Expos.  

Expo 2005 gave Aichi Prefecture in Japan a boost in popularity due to its capability to employ all eco-friendly tools to host the Expo. These included smart multidisciplinary means of mobility; modern technology; and products that protect the environment. This highlighted the city’s strong infrastructure and advanced capabilities as well as boosted its global position and reputation.

Strengths of Expo 2020 Dubai

Dubai’s hosting of the Expo 2020 comes amid major challenges worldwide, chiefly the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions on the economy and tourism worldwide. It is also a test for a Middle Eastern country’s ability to host an international event.

1- Showcasing the UAE’s developmental model: It is expected that the UAE will make unprecedented achievements in hosting and organizing the Expo this year. Some 191 countries are participating, which is the highest number of countries in the history of Expos. Official figures estimate the arrival of 25 million visitors to the UAE during the Expo.

Expo 2020 Dubai will boost the country’s GDP by 5%. The tourism sector will benefit the most from this event with 270,000 new jobs created.

Expo 2020 Dubai will present the UAE’s economic success story to the world. It promoted economic diversification for the post Expo phase, which creates a sustainable economic legacy that preserves the UAE’s position as a leading destination for work, entertainment, investment, culture, and others.

2- Demonstrating capability to host major events: Hosting the Expo 2020 in Dubai is an opportunity to promote the soft power of the UAE. It will boost its global image in hosting big events as part of "mega event diplomacy," which underlines countries’ efforts to strengthen their global presence. This is through hosting major mobile events of limited duration that attract a large number of visitors and have great accessibility. These events cost a lot and have major effects on the host country and its citizens.

This also comes as part of the country’s efforts to align Expo 2020 Dubai with its objectives and themes, which are Sustainability; Mobility; and Opportunity. This will manifest in the Expo’s means of mobility and the possibility of generating power on site without carbon emissions, and hence, support the UAE’s transition to a green economy and use of eco-friendly systems.

The UAE will also create the Expo 2020 Dubai Alumni to connect individuals who participated in the event through an interactive platform where they can network and communicate after the Expo’s duration. This platform is another precedent by the UAE in the history of Expos, which will enhance the country’s opportunity to host major international events.

3- Consolidating the nation’s brand: Expo 2020 Dubai will help the UAE reshape its national brand. This is through showcasing the country’s values that help it present an outstanding experience, in accordance with the UAE’s strategy to become a global, modern, and attractive model, combining authenticity and contemporary relevance. This is through cosmopolitan cities that bustle with cultural globalization, diversity, technology, capital, innovative ideas, global media, and modern logistics. These have all altered the cultural, social, economic, and urban standards in the UAE and made it global model that stands out in the region. This also stems from the country’s patriotic and welcoming atmosphere that opens its doors to all cultures and social structures.

In conclusion, the UAE’s soft power is reflected through several indicators. Expos, with their different editions, will remain an opportunity for countries and host cities to enhance their global position and support their soft power. This is via creating an unforgettable legacy for all countries to follow. Expo 2020 Dubai will bring multiple strategic benefits for the UAE and its soft power regionally and internationally.