International large-scale exhibitions are an integral part of nowadays’ business life. Gathering the representatives of different countries together, they create a unique opportunity for challenging and discussing the urgent global issues, sharing expertise, producing the best solutions, and generating new approaches to social development. Despite significant positive outcomes of this widely used method of global communication, there are still hot debates concerning the correspondence between the costs spent on hosting or participating in such events and the benefits they bring to the host country and participants. The thoughts of professionals, observers, and analytics on this issue vary significantly. While some of them claim that spending such huge costs is not justified and there are no benefits which can compensate this spending, others argue that the event is a turning point in the life of both the host country and the countries which participate in it. To verify both positions, one can review literature presenting different professional stands in concern to the perspectives of World Expo 2020.
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To start the discussion of the possible opportunities and risks that any event can generate, one should have a clear understanding of the event, be familiar with its legacy and aware of its conceptual plan. Thus, World Expo is a mega event, a large-scale exhibition occurring sporadically and lasting for a short time (less than a year) which aims at cultural exchange, the development of new technologies, and nations’ branding (Santos, Vareiro, Remoaldo, & Ribeiro, 2014, p. 444-3). In the case of World Expos, the accent is made mostly on the innovations in the architectural landscape, representing the national aspirations as ambitious and highly modern. This event takes place every five years, and there is a severe struggle among the nations for the right to be the host country. The latest Expos occurred in Seville, Spain (1992), Hannover, Germany (2000), Shanghai, China (2010), and Milan, Italy (2015) (Westlund & Mcalvanah, 2017). Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, was announced the next hosting city, where Expo 2020 will occur from 20 October 2020 until 10 April 2021. The central theme of the upcoming event is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future;” it also has three sub-themes, particularly “Mobility,” “Sustainability,” and “Opportunity” (Expo 2020 Dubai, n.d.). Thus, Expo 2020 promises to be one of the biggest festivals of human ingenuity that foster innovations in all the spheres of social life.
Since the host country is also the central participant of the event, it faces the biggest challenges, and thus one should start discussing the participants’ risks and opportunities from the hosting nation. The United Arab Emirates as well as the whole world community have many expectations for Expo 2020. It is supposed to be the greatest mega event on the globe, gathering together around 180 countries and 25 million international visitors (Expo 2020 Dubai, n.d.). To be able to host such a huge audience, the country should implement a set of transformations involving all the areas of social and economic activity. Mobilization of all possible resources and joining the efforts of the government, non-government sector, business, and community will result in a significant economic growth. This assumption can be made based on the data of latest economic reviews. Jason Tuvey, who is an economist in Capital Economics, claims that the economy the United Arab Emirates will grow by 2.9 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2019 and prescribes this success to the preparation process to Expo 2020 (Saadi, 2018). It is evident that enhancement of economic potential and creation of new opportunities will consequently promote the improvement of investment prospects. Indeed, the study of Bhavani and Kukunuru (2016) predicts an increasing tendency in tree major financial sectors of the country – banking, investment, and insurance (p. 168). It is predicted that the majority of financial sources will be attracted by the real estate, tourism, and transportation since these sectors are aimed at providing better conditions for serving the nations which are expected to participate and visit this mega event.
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According to Westlund and Mclvanah (2017), another area which demonstrates the evident benefits long before the event is the city infrastructure, including architecture, environment, and logistics. The process of redesigning the transport capacities has already started, and the so-called Route 2020 is set to provide a better connection between the Nakheel Harbour, Tower station, and the Expo site. The country also has a plan of improving airport facilities, allowing fast and comfortable arrival for international visitors in the UAE. It is evident that new business agreements will result in new air directions, which, in turn, will promote the growth of the global airline industry.
Inevitably, city architecture will be complemented with new hotels and restaurants and redesigned according to the expectations of tourists, who are the primary target audience within the frame of the exhibition. The growth of tourism is expected to generate over 200 thousand additional jobs in the hospitality area (Westlund & Mclvanah, 2017, p. 475). Consequently, the demand for highly qualified staff as well as the unavoidable positive shift in the education area will be evident. One more significant benefit that Dubai will get from Expo 2020 is the brand positioning, enhancing the country image of a modern, fashionable, interesting tourist destination and world business center.
One can argue that all the benefits mentioned above are merely predictions which could never become true. Indeed, the history of World Expo demonstrates that in the majority of cases, the event failed to meet the expectations of host countries. Only Shanghai Expo 2010 was called the most successful one in regard to delivering the topical message and the effective use of modern infrastructure for the need of the local community (Westlund & Mclvanah, 2017). It is only twenty percent of success if scanning the last 25 years of Expo experience. Therefore, there is a big question whether Dubai can repeat or even outperform Shanghai’s success. However, it is worth admitting that Dubai has significant advantages compared with the other host countries. Thus, the city has a sound infrastructure, targeted economic development, and strong position on the international tourist market. As a result, there is no need to create a totally new strategy for the Expo. Moreover, the event can help enhance the existing directions, make them more outstanding and expand their scale. It is worth admitting that the Middle East will become the stage for the World Expo for the first time, and this event will bring a breakthrough in the development of not only Dubai, the United Arab Emirates but also the entire Gulf region.
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The countries participating in Expo will also gain multiple benefits, which, indeed, are not as evident as in case of the hosting country. The primary opportunity that the participants win lies in the area of branding. Dubai Expo 2020 is going to bring an enormous benefit to this area. One of the unique elements of Expo 2020 is a pavilion dedicated for every country, allowing them to redeem the country image and deliver important messages to the society. One of the brightest examples of successful branding is the Chile exhibition concept within World Expo in Seville, Spain, in 1992. The country’s pavilion was constructed in such a way as to change the world’s perception of the country as a dictator state, announce democratic transformations, and become a trustworthy investment destination (Westlund & Mclvanah, 2017). To understand the close connection between the country image and its economic development, one should consider the fact that a country is similar to a business company since it exists and functions in the competitive environment. Investments or any other developmental success depend on the sources, supportive behavior, following the financial logic and operating effective strategic concept aimed at standing out among other states (Santos et al., 2014). Expo provides the opportunity to appeal to the global society with the targeted message in any area regarding the theme.
Santos et al. (2014) prove that participating in the mega event such as Expo 2020 allows expanding business through the promotion of new products on the international market, finding new partners, customers, and sales markets. It is particularly important for innovative items or offers for those trades, shows, and exhibitions that are often the single chance to become well-known and strengthen their positions on the trade market.
Additionally, World Expo is a good way for exploring the international tendencies and demand in the area of interest, market, and social request before proving new products or services. It is a platform for experience and achievements exchange, contributing to a significant shift in the global development as well as in the progress of any participating country or company. Expo 2020 is unique in regard to its theme promising the explosion of innovations and the celebration of the unreal play of imagination. It is important for the participants to be in the epicenter of novelty to develop innovations, avoid stagnation and the risk of being thrown on the backstage of global tendencies.
After all, despite the fact that Expo is criticized as a method implying the waste of money, one can see that participation in mega-events has a significant positive outcome regardless of the way one participates. It does not matter whether the country participates as the host member, constructs a pavilion, or just has the official delegation – in all these cases they win multiple benefits such as the desirable social and business image, economic growth, competitiveness on the global market, new expertize and partnerships. Indeed, all participants have the opportunity to be involved in the global dialogue contributing to setting new developmental tendencies.