Ricky Shah – 29 Nov, 2021 Middle East perspective

Saturday 27th November was my first visit to Expo2020. Work commitments, family visits and other factors have meant that I wasn’t able to visit previously – however 21,000 steps and 26 pavilions later, I am glad I did!!

The space itself is incredible; a massive congratulations to the Government of Dubai, the Expo team and the 200,000 workers for their incredible efforts in taking a concept to stunning completion. The stone columns with the names of all of the workers were a beautiful and permanent touch.

Some people I spoke to before going weren’t exactly sure what Expo was about; is it to promote tourism? Is it to promote FDI and trade? Is it a place to burn calories (but also make them up through the ubiquitous food options)? My view is that it’s all of the above, and more. Some of the pavilions I visited were entirely focused on introducing their country to visitors; not much in the way of specific trade or investment marketing, but keen to put across the beautiful landscapes, cultures and activities on offer. Others were more actively focused on marketing their countries as investment destinations, or home to exporters of all things wonderful, and even had representatives from their Investment Promotion Agency or Export Promotion Agency ready to have a conversation.

Some pavilions were architectural marvels, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Philippines, Malaysia and Canada, who all used immersive digital experiences to show off their countries. The Palestinian Pavilion, which used actual stones from Old Jerusalem on its flooring and allowed visitors to experience the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches of Palestine, was incredible (the falafel at the end was a highlight!).

However, I really enjoyed the smaller country pavilions – countries that don’t have a significant presence on the international stage but are using Expo as an opportunity to promote their history, culture and landscapes, and also identified specific investment opportunities for guests. A few of my favourites were:

  • Guyana – home to the world’s tallest single drop waterfall!
  • South Sudan – the world’s youngest nation with some wonderful art and handicrafts on display
  • Sierra Leone – music that just made you dance
  • Armenia – the ‘Ethnotech’ concept, with explored Armenia’s technological future based on the traditions of its ancient past
  • Cambodia – with its scale model of Angkor wat and local crafts

And lastly, the Riverdance, held by IDA Ireland, was absolutely incredible. A must-see if you have the chance!