As the summer of 2019 drew to a close, around 800 construction workers gathered for a VIP ceremony in Dubai. The specially invited group was there to see the completion of The Dome, the epicentre of next year's Expo 2020.
They were joined by Ahmed Al-Khatib, the exhibition's Chief Development and Delivery Officer, to see the 130-metre wide, 67-metre tall structure in all its glory. The translucent building - better known as the Al Wasl Plaza (meaning "connected" in Arabic) - is the central point linking three pavilions (which are separately themed around Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity).
Preparations leading up to this moment have been in motion since the UAE was awarded the "world’s greatest show" in 2013. This groundbreaking structure, a marvel of design and engineering devised by Chicago-based architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, is the flagship stage from which six months of celebratory events will take place in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a whole.
It’s perhaps the most obvious – at least for the city's ever-growing skyline - of the UAE’s investment to make this World Fair a significant one. Indeed, it’s a first for the middle east, and the country is determined not to disappoint.
With GDP on the rise in 2019 thanks to public funding at federal and emirate level combining with private investment, Expo 2020 arguably is the icing on the top of the cake helping to drive this economic boost. In total, over 10 million foreign visitors are expected, adding around £26 billion to the country’s economy.
Expo 2020 provides the UAE with a unique opportunity. It's not just about short-term investment, with the six-month-long event expected to add 1.5% to the nation’s gross domestic product, but long-term goals as well. According to data published by EY, the country’s strategy will yield 122.6 billion Emirati Dirham (£3.4 billion) and support nearly one million jobs between now and 2023.
Of course, that means plenty of outsiders looking in. And the UAE is welcoming such attention. A change to Visa rules will further encourage major firms to invest in the country, particularly in its metropolitan centres, while its new foreign direct investment initiative unveiled in 2018 is expected to increase inward flows from 8% to 20%.
The view is that this is also developing stronger international ties to complement its Expo 2020 activities. And, with an increased focus on technological innovation, it is projected to accelerate the UAE’s ambition to meet objectives laid out by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals blueprint.
Could the Emirati Dirham Be Set for a Boost?
Pegged to the US dollar, the Dirham has remained one of the world's most stable currencies (ranking 24th according to the IMD). While its value has been largely reliant on the US Federal Reserve's monetary policies, its move away from an overwhelming oil and gas-based economy could have major implications on the nation’s currency. While its impact will have an effect over the longer term, the impending World Fair might see more pronounced movement in the markets.
Subtle factors such as the UAE recently relaxing regulations around cryptocurrencies, boosting the growth of digital assets and capital markets, are reinforcing optimism. Economic buoyancy is also expected to have an impact on the forex market. For those speculating on foreign exchange rates, the Dirham has proven to be a compelling currency to trade. Its stability is a fillip for traders, whether looking to go short or long. Moreover, when coupled with sustainable projections going into next year and the GDP boost complemented by Expo 2020, brokers may be further encouraged to offer investors attractive margins based on a profitable long-term spread.
That’s particularly true when you consider the rise of the Dirham in value against the Pound (from a low of 0.18987 in 2018 to a more recent high of 0.22649). The currency has also enjoyed strength against the emerging economy of South Africa as well as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In practical terms, this has seen liquid-rich foreign investors buy property in their homelands, while tourists get good exchange rates when visiting.
The Eyes of the World
With Expo 2020 approaching, the eyes of the world are on the UAE. As Dr Robert Rydell, the author of World of Fairs: The Century-of-Progress Expositions and Fair America, Expos can boost economies where significant investment is made to produce a long-term goal.
In the UAE post-District 2020, the legacy of its World Fair which will see buildings such as Al Wasl Plaza be used for other purposes. Indeed, Siemens will set up its logistical hub here after the event concludes. This further underlines why the recent economic boost is not a flash in the pan but the foundation for enduring and sustainable growth in a post-oil future.