With the world having been subjected to a raft of pandemic-related travel restrictions over the past two years, the incredible Expo 2020, currently taking place in Dubai until the end of March after a Covid enforced hiatus, is the perfect antidote for those who have been missing the ability to get out and see what is happening around the globe with their own eyes.
192 countries - and one region (more on that later) – are exhibiting at the first such World Expo to take place since 2015. The scale of the event, together with the palpable sense of ambition and focus on the future that runs throughout the Expo like a golden thread, is truly impressive.
Over a few days, with a comfortable pair of shoes and good timekeeping, one might be able to visit 50 or more pavilions, each showcasing a particular theme or sector that nation wants to impress upon the visiting crowds. With daily tickets costing roughly the same as an off-peak single train ticket between Birmingham and London, it is no wonder that the Expo has already hosted over 10 million visitors since it opened in October, with the same number again expected before it closes at the end of March.
On a recent visit made as part of a wider business trip to the region, I was able to spend some time everywhere from Azerbaijan, Bhutan and Iraq through to India, Russia, Singapore and the US, whose pavilion was particularly easy to spot due to the SpaceX rocket parked outside!
The German pavilion was clearly doing good business judging by the length of the queue, although this could be circumvented by a visit to the Baden-Wurttemberg offering, which stood out as being the only region amongst the exhibiting countries to carve out a separate space for itself with a £15 million pavilion that had been joint funded by the regional government and locally based businesses. It is an admirable display of confidence and self-belief on the world stage from a region which counts Stuttgart as its largest city. With the UK government’s Levelling-Up White Paper fresh in our minds, could it not also be an example for areas such as the West Midlands to replicate at the next such exhibitions?
Talking of which, this coming Thursday – 10th February – marks UK National Day at the Expo. The spotlight will shine brightly on the country and the Stephen Hawking inspired pavilion, designed to demonstrate our world leading position in matters of technology, creativity and innovation.
With less than 170 days until the Opening Ceremony, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games will play a major part in the day. Prince William will welcome the Queen’s Baton Relay to the Expo site and events connected to the Game’s Business and Tourism programme, designed to promote the scale of investment opportunities in the West Midlands and ultimately deliver more jobs and prosperity to the area, are taking place.
This is absolutely the sort of activity that everyone who believes in the potential of the UK should applaud. The Game’s universal appeal, together with a smattering of royal stardust, are the perfect catalyst to drive awareness and positive profile-building of Great Britain in order to help facilitate inward investment and future economic growth. Stimulating employment, wealth creation and growth is key at the best of times, and is even more important now as our economy looks to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Equally, hosting these events within the huge Expo 2020 campus should make ‘Team UK’ reflect on the scale of the global competition in which we are participating. Taking off rose-tinted glasses we should have no doubt that the world around us, represented in Dubai by those other 191 country (and one regional) pavilions, is equally ambitious in terms of promoting its own business benefits and virtues to an international audience.
Our government is rightly making the point that as covid testing and quarantine restrictions end for fully vaccinated visitors the UK possesses one of the strongest and most open economies in Europe. All the same, surely we need to ensure in the months and years ahead that we continue to actively demonstrate our ambition to the rest of the world, or else some of the advantages that we possess, and are showcasing at present, will soon be superseded? After all, as pavilion after pavilion demonstrates at the Expo, everyone is laser-focused on a rapidly developing future, and we have no pre-ordained right to sit at the economic ‘top table’ based on past results.
Six months after the Dubai Expo closes the site will reopen as ‘District 2020’, styled as a ‘new smart and sustainable mixed-use community urban development’ promoting personal wellbeing and being a UAE base for disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things. Elsewhere, in 2025 the next World Expo will take place in Osaka, Japan, and no doubt the leaders of Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg are already thinking about how they can build on the success of their pavilion to further state the case for their region’s economy.
The UK was home to the first World Expo, then known as the Great Exhibition, back in 1851. Taking inspiration from the upcoming Commonwealth Games, while we may have been the early pacesetter and run a good race to date, there is no finishing line in this competition. As such, it is imperative that we maintain our energy, activity and ambition over the next 171 years in order to support ‘Global Britain’ if we want to enjoy the benefits and opportunities that come from such international positioning.
Alongside his brothers, Martyn and Lee, Carl Richardson leads the Richardson family business. Richardson is a leader in real estate and growth capital with a business portfolio that is embedded across the world. The multi-generational independent family-run trading and investment business began over 70 years ago in the West Midlands. Current growth capital investments include an award-winning Swiss technology company, a UK financial services business, a US based medical real estate company and the largest avocado grower in New Zealand. Real estate holdings are significant in scale and content, encompassing office, residential, distribution centres, leisure and infrastructure properties, nationally and internationally.