Dubai is only few months away from kick starting the world Expo 2020, the largest event ever staged in the Arab world, one that the emirate hopes will leave a lasting legacy not only for the country, but also for the region and beyond.

Under the general theme chosen for the Expo: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, more than 190 countries (including Israel) will come together to discuss mobility, innovation and sustainability in a series of pavilions across a 4.38 sq. km site in Dubai South economic zone.

The logo of the Expo, inspired by a ring found in the UAE at a 4000-year-old archaeological site, reflects the aspiration of the emirate and the country to remain a hub connecting the world and bringing people together. A role already inscribed in the old name of Dubai: Al Wasl, or “the connection”. "Dubai Expo 2020 will breathe new life into the ancient role of the Middle East as a melting pot for cultures and creativity," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.  

As Mutasem Dajani, United Arab Emirates Deloitte regional managing partner, wrote: “It is clear that Expo 2020 will go beyond a local showcase of commerce, technology and infrastructure(…). The stated subthemes of the Expo are Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. By focusing on identified key drivers of global development, Dubai will itself become an agent for future global progress as securing sustainable energy and resources, connecting and moving people, goods and services across markets and exploring the intrinsic spirit of entrepreneurship come together in a location that is uniquely synonymous with achievement in each of these areas” (Expo 2020, A Game Changer for Dubai, Deloitte, Spring 2014).

The event was one of the key factors driving the growth of Dubai’s construction sector in the last two years, according to new analysis released by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The majority of contracts included works at the Expo’s site, with others relating to the expansions of Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), Jebel Ali Port and the Dubai Metro Red line connecting the city centre to the Expo 2020 site.

According to the organizers, 80% of the Expo's buildings and structures will be incorporated into a new business zone called District 2020, a multi-purpose development with residential and commercial space designed to contribute to the UAE’s drive towards a knowledge-based economy.

Dubai is betting on the Expo to boost its economy and with this in mind the government announced it intends to increase state spending by 17% to a record 66.4 billion dirhams ($18.1 billion), compared with 56.8 billion seen in the budget plan for 2019.

Infrastructure spending has played a significant role in the diversification effort of the emirate: the 2019 budget put aside $ 2.5 billion for the sector, down 22% compared to the previous year, but still higher than in 2017. The Expo has provided an opportunity to develop the city’s transportation system, with the opening of 65 km of new roads and bridges. An additional 15 km of roads and bridges should be completed in time for the opening of the Expo while the 15 km expansion of the Dubai Metro – called Route 2020 – will facilitate an expected 520,000 passengers per day.

With 70 per cent of 25 million visitors to the Expo expected to come from abroad, the emirate hopes to also boost its tourism numbers. The sector represents 20% of Dubai’s GDP and over 60% of the country’s tourism industry, forecast to rise to 72% by 2026, according to Oxford Business Group.

Visa procedures have been loosened to attract more visitors and the government is engaged in continuous efforts to promote itself as a tourist and business destination, with campaigns in more than 40 countries. According to the latest Monster Employment Index (MEI), the tourism and hospitality sector have witnessed a 37 per cent surge in job opportunities last year. According to a recent report by consultancy firm EY, Dubai 2020 might create more than 45.000 jobs a year.

The organizers promise this will be “the world’s greatest show”. Whether this will be the case, it remains to be seen. But for the country the Expo certainly represents a once-in-a-lifetime event, one that Dubai hopes will help “to ensure the UAE remains a leading destination for business, leisure and investment”, says Najeeb Mohammed Al-Ali, executive director of the Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau.