Coronavirus – With 210 countries and territories reporting COVID-19 cases and almost 60% of the world’s population in lockdown, completing a global event with just few months left looks like a lost battle. On March 31 the government of the United Arab Emirates suggested to reschedule Expo 2020 Dubai to fall 2021. It definitely make sense. But which are the implications of such choice?
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Dubai Expo director general Reem al-Hashimi said: “Many countries have been significantly impacted by COVD-19 and they have therefore expressed a need to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai by one year. The UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened. And in the spirit of solidarity, we supported the proposal to explore one year postponement.”
Actually, according to Article 28 of the 1928 Paris Convention, to officially finalize such a decision will require the ratification of a two-thirds majority vote of the member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the international organization that regulates world expositions or world’s fairs.
But that won’t be an issue as many international participants are struggling to keep construction sites running in order to be ready for the the inauguration due to travel bans and shortage of workforce and supplies. BIE will convene on April 21 for a virtual meeting of its Executive Committee to discuss a change of dates for Expo 2020 Dubai.
How will construction sites deal with the postponement?
World Expos require national pavilions to be dismantled at the end of the event, therefore many structures have been designed to last for a short period of time. Buildings that are largely finished will suffer some deterioration by sitting idle for two summers and a winter in the desert and will definitively need to maintenance.
Contracts will have to be extended. Companies which cannot commit to the extended time frame will see their contract terminated even if they have been paid for goods or services. This implies a sharp rise in the costs as fewer vendors will be available a year from now. [Above: construction of the Italian Pavilion by CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati].
Even if everything was ready for October 2020, how many of the expected 25 million visitors will actually be willing or able to travel to Dubai?
The success of any Expo and fair is a picture with hoards of people walking across, queuing to enter packed national pavilions, sharing crowded benches and dining in bustling restaurants. Exactly what governments have been advising to avoid for weeks. If the Expo 2020 Dubai went ahead as plannes, the figured expected and announced won’t become real. The one year postponement is definitively a safer solution.
What about relevance and investments?
World Expos are the perfect tool for countries and companies to show off and work on their global relevance. Dubai aims to create the biggest one in history; but October 2020 is too soon and there are too many variables, some sponsors might have to re-organise, re-consider or even withdraw their participation. Going ahead would be blow also to the local government investments, it will definitely affect the revenue of local business and betray expectations, diminishing the global relevance of the event itself.
How will national participations be affected?
At Expo 2015 Milan, Greece downsized its participation to a smaller pavilion due to the austerity measures the country had to face after to 2008 crisis. Both Expo 2020 Dubai and Expo 2021 Dubai could see some countries having to downscale their presence. Especially the ones that allocated a smaller budget or the ones that will find difficult to justify big spending for a promotional event during the economic crisis the pandemic has created.
Will the US join the event?
The US participation hung in the balance for some time due to complicated government regulations that make it difficult to fund US participation in world expos. So far the Emirati government announced it will fund the US Pavilion, but if there is a change in administrations in the UAE and the US – for example a new President – the pavilion content may have to be revised.