If you thought planning an international meeting of three to five days was an undertaking, how about one that lasts 173 days? That's the situation that Shaun Vorster finds himself in. As vice president of business integration and activations for Expo 2020 Dubai — the first World Expo to take place in the Middle East — he is counting down to its launch on Oct. 20, 2020.
Even by Dubai's spectacular standards, Expo 2020 will be eye-poppingly grand. Stretched across 190 country pavilions and three themed districts will be hundreds of restaurants, countless arts and cultural experiences, and around 60 live shows every day offering entertainment for an estimated 25 million visits over its six-month run.
"Each World Expo offers something unique," says Vorster. "Each revolves around a theme, and in our case, we believe in this day and age no theme can be more relevant than Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. It's all about the power of partnership, collaboration, and bringing people and ideas together in new and unique ways."
Forster describes the gathering as a truly global event, with 190 countries so far having confirmed their participation. And the Expo will be easy to reach from throughout Dubai, thanks to the construction of Dubai Metro Route 2020, expected to transport some 46,000 passengers per hour to and from the site.
At the doorstep of this event village is the Dubai Exhibition Center, currently under construction, which will host 80 percent of Dubai 2020's business-programming events. It includes 484,000 square feet of programmable space with two theaters that can fit up to 2,500 and 400 attendees, respectively. The venue's north campus will have two multi-purpose halls that can be combined for larger events with a capacity of up to 2,000 people. The south campus will feature exhibition space for banquets, summits and large-scale gatherings — as well as indoor concerts for up to 15,000 people.
"It's a state-of-the-art facility in terms of technology, infrastructure and more, but what makes it unique is the experience it creates for delegates," says Vorster. "For the MICE industry, for destination marketing companies and professional conference organizers, there could not be a more exciting venue — particularly when it's hosted at the heart of the World Expo."
Expo 2020 Dubai's Three Subthemes
In addition to the almost 200 pavilions dedicated to particular countries and their innovations, Expo 2020 will feature three districts oriented to the event's subthemes:
Each will be a "key pillar" to the overall event, with a dedicated pavilion and range of experiences built around the concept.
For example, sustainability "has been incorporated across everything we do — what we'll showcase, what we'll deliver, the ideas that will be introduced," according to Vorster. He adds that half of the Expo site's energy will be supplied from renewable resources, and "our Sustainability Pavilion will explore how to be more self-sustaining in our use of water, energy and other resources by using innovative combinations of technology."
Beyond the innovative structure of the venue and the exhibits inside of it, sustainability will be also be featured from a legacy standpoint: 80 percent of everything built will be repurposed after the Expo.
Vorster is not sweating such a big project, thanks in part to his long history in working on international business events. In addition to his role as a senior adviser at Expo 2020 Dubai, Vorster serves on the advisory board of the World Tourism Forum Lucerne and as extraordinary professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and judge for the World Travel and Tourism Council's Tourism for Tomorrow awards.
Previously, he served as special adviser to the South African National Ministers of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, a role in which he helped oversee the launch of the T.20 Tourism Ministers' Meeting, gathering the tourism ministers from the G20 countries.
Such a major event also will be an opportunity to showcase Dubai itself. While it has long been high on planners' lists for international destinations, an event of this scale and profile is expected to show how big the destination can go.
"For Dubai as a whole, it's a chance to showcase the best that we can be — solutions-focused on the future, including business and investment opportunities," says Vorster. "It's about Dubai being a business hub, but also the World Expo being a place of connection and the creation of value."