The Magic Number to Watch in Dubai: 2020



For Dubai the magic number is 2020. This is of course when the city-state hopes to host the World Expo. However, 2020 is also to herald the arrival of a new era. The emirate’s rulers seem decided to propel Dubai to the world’s forefront across a wide range of sectors: Fashion 2020, Tourism 2020 and – indeed – Strategic Plan 2020. In about seven years from now Dubai will yet again have been reinvented.

This latest spurt of development is the brainchild Dubai’s Crown Prince and Chairperson of the Executive Council, Sheik Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum (aka “Fazza”). A poet by heart, the crown prince is above all a man of grand gestures and ambitious plans some of which might even border the audacious.

Establishing Dubai as a global fashion hub by 2020 is just one of those less-than-obvious goals the emirate has set. Dubai Fashion 2020 includes the building of a massive design district to house both the creative and manufacturing elements of the industry. The plan aims to attract specialized businesses and investment from all over the world. Secretary-general Abdulla Al Shaibani of the Executive Council leaves little room for doubt: “With Dubai Fashion 2020 we seek to become the world’s premier destination for the industry’s top players adding yet another pillar to our economy.”

Meanwhile, Tourism 2020 is already well on its way to attaining the goals set. Visitor arrivals are up 11% over last year and now stand at 5.5 million. Average hotel occupancy rates have crept up to 84%. Director Helal Saeed Al Marri of the Department of Tourism says the country is now well poised to become a prime tourist destination as envisioned in the 2020 plan: “The most recent figures are most encouraging. We are attracting increased numbers of business and leisure travellers from a range of source markets.”

“With Dubai Fashion 2020 we seek to become the world’s premier destination for the industry’s top players adding yet another pillar to our economy.”

The average length of stay is up as well thanks to Dubai’s earlier investment in festivals and cultural events such as Shopping and Literature festivals and the Summer Surprises, a family and shopping oriented series of happenings.

The crowning achievement must be the World Expo 2020. Dubai put its candidacy up at the very last moment but now seems to lead the pack. The emirate competes against bids by Sao Paulo (Brazil), Izmir (Turkey) and Yekaterinburg (Russia). Last June the organizing body of the World Expo, the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), ruled that the bid by Ayutthaya (Thailand) did not meet its requirements and dropped the city from the list of contenders.

In November, 166 BIE delegates decide which of the four cities will host the World Expo 2020. As a country that seems to be booming not just economically but also with vitality and confidence, Dubai stands a good chance of taking the coveted prize. Its candidacy already has the backing of both France and the UK.

An economic impact report on the World Expo 2020 commissioned by the Dubai government predicts that the event will generate almost 280,000 jobs. Up to 33 million visitors can be expected to visit the emirate during the six month run of the event. In the build-up to the BIE vote, Dubai authorities are particularly keen to emphasize their country’s global outlook.

The World Expo 2020 features the theme Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. Sitting at the crossroads of the world, there is little doubt that Dubai is a place where connections are made. And as far as creating the future goes: The City State stands testimony to man’s ability to create something out of virtually nothing.

Analysts familiar with the inner workings of the Bureau of International Expositions expect the emirate to see its bid honoured. Not only has the World Expo – since its inception 162 years ago – never been held in the Arab world, the event could also do with some of the elegance, splendour, perfection and efficiency Dubai generally brings to hosting world-class happenings.

Reem al Hashemi, managing-director of the committee set up to promote Dubai’s Expo 2020 submission, is pretty confident of the city-state’s chances: “We possess the infrastructure, experience and credentials necessary to ensure the success of an enterprise of such a vast magnitude and I’m sure others will recognize these facts and vote accordingly.”

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