A ceremony with inspirational speeches, dance routines, international music stars and fireworks marked the closing of EXPO 2020 in Dubai on March 31, 2022. The EXPO flag was solemnly passed to representatives from Osaka, Japan, the host country for EXPO 2025, and there was a palpable feeling of sadness as this great party came to an end.

EXPO 2020 was the first world fair to be hosted in the Middle East and the first to offer a pavilion for all 192 participating countries. The fair’s theme was Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, and within this enormous 4.4 sq. km site the country, company and themed pavilions were divided into three sub-districts: sustainability, mobility and opportunity.

I was an EXPO 2020 enthusiast from the outset. With a season ticket in hand, my first visit was on Day 2, October 2, 2021. I took the metro. It was hot and humid and the distance covered 6.6 km. I didn’t have a plan in those early visits. My idea was just to wander, soak it up and avoid the queues. I enjoyed the serendipity —a kora player on the Earth stage, Riverdance masterclasses, coffee in Colombia and drumbeats drawing me to Angola. As the weeks wore on, more pavilions were completed, signage was improved and additional transport options opened. But this site was made for walking —and I walked. Advice to friends and colleagues —wear flat shoes. I started popping over after work as the site was only 20 minutes from our office. The night-time experience was magical – pavilions twinkled, video screens flashed, fantastic creatures roamed the streets, music hummed and performances erupted.

At a time when it was hard to travel, the world had come to me. I felt I owed it to every country to read their stories and understand their message. I took a chunky book, made notes, collected stamps and, during this journey, I found inspiration and quirky facts and studied national treasures up close. It was not all positive. I learned more about the island nations threatened by rising seas, world heritage sites reduced to rubble, the history of slavery and the disturbing legacy of nuclear testing in the Pacific. When EXPO 2020 started, there was no war in Europe and by the end of the fair, the Ukraine pavilion was deluged with messages of support.

With just a month left before the fair came to an end, I upped my game. I used the app to skip the queues, and I homed in on my final pavilions. Even after five months, there were areas of the site I hadn’t seen. Japan was the hardest to book, Germany took the longest to get into, Hungary was my last pavilion visit and Pakistan was my favourite. Over 28 visits, I walked 215 km and had countless conversations. I listened, connected and learned more about the world and the myriad of challenges we all face. I was not alone.

Twenty-four million visitors passed through the doors of EXPO 2020 and 150 million people visited virtually. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce (DCC) reported 1,500 bilateral trade meetings and 1,746 international delegations. The new Dubai Exhibition Centre at EXPO hosted numerous global conventions. EXPO has been a real catalyst for growth and post-pandemic recovery; there’s no doubt that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ability to handle an event of this magnitude has been good for the country’s reputation.

The DCC’s EXPO 2020 Report details how the Dubai economy has outperformed expectations with a 27 percent growth in non-oil trade year over year, a 32 percent increase in visitor numbers and a 56.3 percent growth in revenue per available room (REVPAR) from 2020 to 2021. Business confidence is at its highest level since 2015.

I’m reading positive reports about GDP growth, the increase in Foreign Direct Investment, rising real estate valuations and new business registrations. There’s a feeling of optimism in the UAE and the country’s growing population is already translating into new capital projects in infrastructure, residential real estate, hospitality and education.

EXPO 2020 really was “The World’s Greatest Show” —a cultural extravaganza and an economic catalyst that will propel the UAE towards another 50 years of growth. I look forward to the ride.

Water feature Expo 2020
Evening music Sun Stage Expo 2020