Dubai's vast Expo 2020 site rises from the desert


Dubai (AFP)

With a year to go until the Expo 2020 trade fair, the mammoth venue in Dubai's desert is currently a tangle of steel, concrete and dust.

But the emirate, hit hard by a downturn, hopes the event will deliver an economic shot in the arm when it launches in October next year.

Dubai, defined by its skyscrapers and mega-projects, may boast the most diverse economy in the Gulf region, but its vital property, tourism and trade sectors have been badly weakened.

The total value of real estate deals plunged 21.5 percent last year, while tourist arrivals remained stagnant at around 16 million.

This year, Dubai seems to be on the same path, hosting 8.3 million visitors in the first six months.

But officials in the emirate, known for its giant malls, luxury resorts and unlikely attractions including an indoor ski slope, are hoping the global trade fair will turn things around.

On a Tuesday tour of the sprawling site, much of it off limits to the media, organisers said construction was "on track".

Dozens of trucks, some loaded with building materials, zipped in and out of the venue, on sand dunes in the south of Dubai.

Countless workers in yellow and orange vests plied the scaffolding of vast unfinished structures.

The first few white feathers are now recognisable on the wings of the United Arab Emirates pavilion, built in the shape of a falcon in flight.

When completed, the four-storey structure's vast wings will move to capture or repel sunlight.

The Al Wasl Plaza taking shape at the heart of the complex has a 550-tonne (606-ton) steel dome that forms a vast projection screen for light shows and images.

Some 200 countries will take part in the fair, which runs from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021.

Organisers say the $8-billion Expo, with more than 200 restaurants and dozens of events each day, is much more than a six-month trade show.

"This is the first time that there's an Expo happening in this part of the world," said Sanjive Khosla, Expo 2020's Chief Commercial Officer.

"From a business event to a concert or festival, it is really diverse programming," he said.

After the party is over, the goal is to turn the 4.4 square kilometre (1.7 square mile) site into a district including homes, an exhibition centre and headquarters for scores of companies.

"The plan for the future development is that it becomes Dubai's innovation district... that will then be the true legacy of Expo 2020," said Nadimeh Mehra, vice-president for the new mini city.