Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Oct 28, 2019
View the full digital edition

Expo 2020 Dubai

It’s going to be the greatest show on earth



One of the first things that Sumathi Ramanathan will tell you about Expo 2020 Dubai is that it’s going to be the “greatest show on earth.”

Ramanathan, global destination marketing director for Expo 2020 Dubai, spoke with Canadian Travel Press recently, offering a range of insights on what visitors can expect from the mega event that will open in Dubai in October 2020.
“It’s an exciting time for Dubai,” Ramanathan said, “The campaign is going to launch very soon and it’s called Expo 2020 Dubai: The Greatest Show On Earth and we truly promise the greatest destination experience for all visitors.”

She’s also quick to point out that Expo 2020 Dubai has already marked a number of “firsts,” including the fact that it is the first time that a World Expo has been held in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa region, allowing “people from across the globe to experience a World Expo with the touch of Arabic flavour and the Emerati hospitality – which really makes it very unique.”

Already 192 countries have committed to participating in a World Expo that, for the first time, will see each of the countries have their own pavilion – and that’s another first.

“We have a concept called One Country, One Pavilion which truly allows the countries which are participating to showcase the best of their country’s heritage, culture, innovation, technology and creativity on an individual scale,” Ramanathan told CTP.

“So the promise for visitors is that with one flight ticket and one visa, they will actually get to visit 192 countries and see the best that the country has got to offer,” she said.

Beyond the country pavilions, Ramanathan said that: “There is a full program of entertainment. There’s going to be 60 live events per day. And it is one of the first World Expos that we are celebrating in the winter period, so for the first time in World Expo history, so we get to celebrate six very special days.”

These will include Diwali, Christmas, New Year’s, Chinese New Year and more, as well as celebrations to mark the United Arab Emirates 50th anniversary – its Jubilee Celebration – in 2021.

Expo 2020 Dubai will also have a strong food and beverage offering, with more than 200 outlets ranging from fine dining to street food, from bistros to cafes.

Something for everyone

Connecting Minds, Creating the Future is the theme of Expo 2020 Dubai, and its goal is to bring together the best minds in one place and find solution to some of the big problems facing the world today. Within the World Expo’s main theme, are three sub-themes that include Opportunity; Sustainability; and Mobility.

These themes, Ramanathan explained are what will make “this World Expo really unique because the thematics are broad enough, but the curated to sub-themes allow any visitor to come and explore an area which is of their interest.”

Her point is that: “There is going to be something for everyone. And I think particularly for the Canadian audience who are seeking important experiences that will enrich their lives, we are very confident that Expo 2020 Dubai will have something to offer them.”

Key markets

Between October 2020 and April 2021, Ramanathan told CTP that Expo 2020 Dubai is expecting 25 million visits, with 70% of those visitors being international.

Europe and Asia will be the mega event’s biggest source markets, including the Gulf markets, South Asia (largely India), Russia CIS, China, the European markets of the United Kingdom, Germany and France, and North America are all in the top 10.

She pointed out that: “In the top 10 markets, we have a very strong and strategic reach, however, we are having a massive outreach to our top 50 markets where we will be having an Expo presence in working with the travel trade. And we have a light touch approach in about 30 other markets. So we have a tiered strategy approach to some of our key source markets …”

As for where North America fits, Ramanathan explained that: “Both the US and Canada are important source markets for us for a number of reasons. Both of these markets have hosted World Expos before and are very familiar with mega events. They’re sophisticated markets where travellers actually look for experiences when they’re travelling and therefore we believe Expo is actually a fantastic fit [for them].”

Targeting the trade

As for the travel trade, Ramanathan told CTP that: “Our approach in the US and Canada is heavily reliant on working with our stakeholders in the tourism industry. Travel agents and tour operators are pivotal to our strategy in terms of delivering the visitor experience.”

To that end, she said that Expo 2020 Dubai has developed an Authorized Ticket Reseller (ATR) program and “through this program we will be able to work very closely with interested [members of the] trade.”

“We have done several roadshows, in fact, we have three outreach programs that have already happened in the US and one in Canada and the response from the trade [to the ATR program] has been absolutely fantastic,” she said.

Ramanathan explained that the ATR enables members of the travel trade to access Expo tickets at a commissionable rate and then they can package it and start selling it to the audience [their clients].

She noted, as well, that: “We have marketing funding that will go behind it, so as part of the ticketing they will be able to negotiate some marketing support which includes cash investment on a co-op funding basis, training and marketing materials.”

And Rmanathan added: “The most important thing is that they will get to use the Authorized Ticket Reseller logo which means that they have been trained by Expo; that they’ve got the knowledge; they’ve got the expertise; they’ve got access to inside information regarding itinerary planning; and more importantly they are the appointed authority to sell tickets in Canada.”

Agents and operators can find information on the ATR program by going to Expo2020, where they will find a specific page for the resellers and they can register their interest there.

Ramanathan told CTP that Expo 2020 has taken a “proactive approach” and during its tradeshows has “reached out to the majority of
the travel trade in Canada and we’ve had significant interest from the trade.

“So it is going well, but we’d love to encourage more agents to come and have a conversation with us and we’re happy to support [them],” Ramanathan said.

Beyond leisure

While the leisure market is clearly going to be important, Ramanathan said that Expo 2020 Dubai also has a “very strong” program in place for the MICE market, particularly for incentives.

“The really interesting thing about this World Expo is that it’s a unique event – it’s once-in-a-lifetime and it’s for six months only. Any other incentive destination will remain there, but to say that you’ve actually done part of your incentive program at a World Expo is hugely appealing because you can’t repeat that destination offer and it’s time limited only,” she said.

Ramanathan continued: “So for incentive organizers, for example, if they’re coming to Dubai or to Abu Dhabi, there is an opportunity for them to do part of their [incentive] program at the World Expo. There are opportunities for them to do team building activities within the Expo site; to do treasure hunts; to do their award ceremonies and gala dinners; there’s progressive dine-around – any of the usual incentive activities that you can do in any destination, you can also do it at the World Expo – so it’s a very big proposition for the incentive visitation market.”

Another market segment that Ramanathan said Expo 2020 Dubai is looking at is school and university visitation programs.

She explained: “We have eight curated journeys for school and university visitations that cover a wide variety of subject matter.”

Curated journeys for these types of groups are available for Architecture & Design; Information Technology; Climate Change and Sustainability; Arts & Culture; Sciences & Engineering and several others.

“So there’s a real opportunity for either university students or high school students to come and explore all of these curated journeys,” she said.

On course with Emirates

One of Expo 2020 Dubai’s key partners is Emirates. Along with being the official airline of the Expo, Emirates is also a premiere partner and will “play a very significant role, in terms of raising awareness in the market and supporting us in terms of providing with their support with both the travel trade and with raising awareness,” Ramanathan said.

She pointed out that as a premiere partner, “Emirates will have its own pavilion and that’s really going to be interesting because the visitor experience there will utilize interactive technology and will focus on the future of commercial aviation. So any one who is interested in understanding how we will be flying in the future – and most of us are – this will be a real opportunity to come and take a look at the Emirates pavilion.”

As for the participation of other airlines, Ramanathan pointed out that: “Our strategy is to work across the board with all the key touch-points or channels that will help us deliver the visitation numbers. So we’re actively talking to a number of other airlines as well to ensure that travellers have got an option. While Emirates will have a special relationship with Expo 2020 – due to its official partner relationship – we are still able to work with other airlines through the Authorized Ticket Reseller program.”

Reasons for success

So the big question, is the obvious question. Will Expo 2020 Dubai be a success?

Ramanathan observes that although it has yet to open Expo 2020 Dubai is already breaking records – 192 countries participating, the highest country participation rate for a World Expo — “and I think one of the main things about World Expo is that it’s about bringing people together and the participation of the countries really tells us that this is a huge testament of success. The ability to be able to see these 192 countries coming together in one place, I think, is one of the biggest achievements that we can have and which will also help us to drive the visitation.”

Another factor, as Ramanathan sees it, is location. Dubai is easily accessible and there are 3 billion people within a four-hour flight of the Expo 2020 site and that makes visiting the event “extremely compelling.”

And she adds: “Another key reason for the success of Expo will be because of the fact that no matter which country that you’re interested in seeing – because of the One Country, One Pavilion concept – you’re guaranteed that you will have an in-depth experience with each of those country’s pavilions, which makes it very, very compelling.”

Leaving a legacy

Measuring success also means looking at what happens after Expo 2020 closes its doors and Ramanathan is quick to point out that the event has a strong legacy program in place, telling CTP that “post-World Expo, Expo 2020, the district, will become known as District 2020; and 80% of the infrastructure that is being built for World Expo will remain in legacy.”

She continued: “The legacy piece is also very important in the sense that it helps to drive the economic benefits. For example, the Mobility Pavilion that we have on the Expo site, it will become a corporate headquarters and global logistic hub for Siemens. We’ve got Nissan and Accenture, who are currently actively pursuing opportunities to open offices there.”

As well, the Sustainability Pavilion on the Expo site – which is 100% self-sustainable … will become a children’s science museum once Expo ends, while the Dubai Exhibition Centre – covering 48,000 square metres during Expo, will be expanded 180,000 square metres following the event, becoming the biggest exhibition centre in the region.

Said Ramanathan: “I think the success of any mega-event hinges on not only what you do before – and I think we’re really, really proud of the fact that we’ve got such high participation – it’s what happens during the event and we’re very, very confident of the program of activities that we’ve put together – not only be the Expo organizing committee, but also by the countries themselves … and finally, and most importantly to me, is the legacy piece as well has been really well thought through. I comeback to the fact that it’s going to be the world’s greatest show and it’s going to give each and every visitor an extremely memorable experience.”

Final thoughts

So, any last thoughts?

“Our message to the Canadian travel trade is that there are a number of mega-events that happen from time to time, but this mega-event promises – you know we call it an Expo for everyone, so regardless of their [an agent’s] clientele – we are very confident that we will be able to tailor a really unique experience for each of their clientele and we’re ready to work with them and support them,” Ramanathan said.

And she continued: “In today’s travel industry, where everything is becoming almost faceless, I think Expo 2020 Dubai provides a phenomenal opportunity for them to personalize the experience and to create that lifelong memory that normally tour operators and travel agents aspire to create for their clientele. So we really welcome the opportunity to work with them to create this experience for their visitors.”