On 4 May, Dubai confirmed the delay of Expo 2020 after a two-thirds majority of the member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) voted in favour of postponing the event. Expo 2020 will retain its name, but the new dates have been confirmed as 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022.
While BIE officially approved the one-year postponement of Expo 2020 on 29 May, the majority threshold was surpassed within a week of initiating voting on 24 April, indicating strong support for rescheduling the event in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Change of plans
Expo 2020 was estimated to contribute AED122.6bn ($33.4bn) to the UAE’s economy between 2013 and 2031, according to a study conducted by consultancy EY. For Dubai, the event was expected to provide a much-needed boost for sectors including real estate, aviation, tourism and hospitality, with almost 11 million foreign visitors forecast to attend.
Handover of Expo 2020-owned facilities and structures was due to take place by the end of 2019 and the deadlines for the completion of country pavilions were to run from July to September 2020.
However, the outbreak of Covid-19 has stymied these plans.
As of 18 May, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus globally stood at 4.71 million and the UAE had confirmed more than 23,000 cases.
By postponing the expo until late 2021, it is hoped that countries will have had time to make some headway with their post-Covid-19 recovery strategies, the threat to health will have passed, and traveller sentiment will have improved to the point that international tourism is once again thriving.
The deadline extension also offers another year for organisers and participants to plan to do things even bigger and better.
“A delay to the commencement of Expo 2020 Dubai presents a silver lining around the dark Covid-19 cloud,” says commissioner general of Finland for Expo 2020 Dubai, Severi Keinala.
“The pandemic has had an immense impact on the global economy and we are seeing recessionary tendencies grow daily.
However, after a downturn there will always be an upswing, and there is a good chance that by October 2021 the global economy will be well on its way to recovery.”
At that time, the event could support a number of sectors, including real estate, where property consultant Savills has noted that “Expo positivity should coincide with a strong rebound in transactional activity” once the pandemic is contained.
Exhibiting countries are now adapting the delivery timetables for their national pavilions to take into account any delays caused by Covid-19 restrictions and to meet the newly extended deadline for the event.
“Naturally, the postponement has had an impact on construction activities,” says Finland’s Keinala.
“We will take pavilion construction as far as the final surfaces, ensuring the structure is weatherproof, and when we resume construction activity next year, elements such as the exterior cladding, interior painting and fit-out will be finished.
“This will allow us to maintain the building’s health throughout the extension period and ensure we showcase a fresh pavilion to visitors in October 2021,” he explains.
On the other hand, according to New Zealand’s commissioner general to Expo 2020, Clayton Kimpton, construction on the New Zealand pavilion is still expected to be completed this year.
He explains that the finished pavilion will be ‘mothballed’ until the expo begins.
He adds: “Expo 2020 next year will be an opportunity for the world to come together and collaborate in the spirit of solidarity and optimism as we rebuild the global economy following Covid-19.”
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