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Expo gives Dubai resilience for the future, says GlobalData’s MEED

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Dubai’s focus now shifts to legacy as the site becomes District 2020.

Dubai Expo 2020 closed its doors on March 31, bringing to an end not only the 182-day event itself, but also a chapter of sustained development that began when the emirate was picked to host the event in November 2013, says GlobalData’s MEED.

Dubai’s focus now shifts to legacy as the site becomes District 2020. Germany’s Siemens is already signed up as a tenant, and many of the larger pavilions will remain as national trade missions and office space. There have also been talks with universities that are keen to set up campuses on the site. This was the plan from the outset and the infrastructure for the expo is actually designed as infrastructure for District 2020, used by the expo for six months.

Colin Foreman, Deputy Editor at GlobalData’s MEED, comments: “The transition from a temporary event into a permanent development will be relatively seamless and require limited construction work. The site is also expandable, as the large car parking areas that flank the expo site will be available for future development.

“As with all master planned developments, it will take time for District 2020 to gain critical mass. What it has in its favor is established infrastructure and a profile, as a large proportion of Dubai’s population has visited the site at least once over the past six months. More broadly for Dubai, in many ways, the emirate finds itself in the same position that it was in back in 2012 and 2013, when it was preparing its bid for the expo.”

Many would welcome a new reason to keep the economy on the front foot. Traditionally, that talk has centred on a possible bid for the Olympic Games, but with Paris, Los Angeles and Brisbane selected for the next three events, the next available event is 2036, and the host city will not be selected until the second half of this decade. Meanwhile, the old concerns of overcapacity will remain.

Foreman continues: “In August 2019, the UAE Vice-President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said the UAE needed to curb the pace of its real estate projects. Although sales have been strong, and property prices have rebounded since then, there are still large volumes being delivered. Property consultants forecast that 63,500 units are due to be delivered in 2022.”

Hotel capacity is another area of concern. Hotels performed well during the expo, but they may struggle with occupancy in the future, especially as mass tourism from Russia – the third-largest source market in 2021 – may decline due to the recent drop in the value of the rouble following its invasion of Ukraine.

Foreman concludes: “With much of the development in recent years being spearheaded by Dubai and its government-related entities, attention could once again turn to its debt obligations, which London-based Capital Economics estimates at a total $85.3 billion or 86.4% of Dubai’s GDP. If these challenges materialize, Dubai may discover that the greatest legacy of the expo is having the confidence and ability to deliver in the face of adversity.”

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