I was in Dubai in February 2022 and, since I was there, I could not resist the temptation to visit the World Expo, being held there for six months till 31 March 2022. I went there four times, for half a day each time. And, for various reasons, it was a memorable experience.
1. To begin with, it was an impressive lineup of over 170 national pavilions—some massive structures like those of Saudi Arabia and China, and some small ‘2BHK’ pavilions like Honduras and Seychelles, who had little to show and even less to sell!
2. The second was the layout - so well thought out and with areas designated as Sustainability, Mobility, Opportunity. Countries could opt to be part of any one of these three themes. Singapore, for example, opted to be part of Sustainability and had a multi-storied pavilion, which took you back to your memories of Sentosa Island in Singapore!
3. The third was the design and layout of the public meeting areas for concerts and other large attendance events. Impressive, unforgettable—but not oppressive!
4. The cleanliness of the whole area. Not a piece of paper on the roads. And, of course, no spitting! There are sets of bins at walking distance for different kinds of trash, so you do not have to look very far.
5. And there are always some surprises. As you walk along the road, you may be confronted by a robot who stops and tells a visitor that he is not wearing a mask, and could he please do so? There is both surprise and shock. But the mask comes out of the pocket onto where it should be—and the robot goes to find others who are breaking the rules.
As you walk further, if you veer into the middle of the road, you will hear a bell ting behind you. It is the closed metal ‘baker’s basket’ on wheels, moving alone and repeating every few minutes, “We are delivering lunch to Pavilion 54. Request you to please step aside”. And you move quickly to the side, where you should have been in the first place.
That is a glimpse of the future for every visitor to the Expo!
6. Senior citizens are not charged an entry fee. There is a free pass, valid for all six months. And many restaurants offer food and beverages for senior citizens at a 30% discount! There is also free travel within the Expo in buggies, during the morning period – and for a small charge, during the rest of the day.
7. The high point of the Expo, for me, was the very high level of courtesy—so obvious from the parking lot, or the metro train station, right to the entrance gates and beyond. It is a global staff, from every continent, including faraway South America. They are trained not just in the skills needed (e.g., tourist guide) but, most of all, to be kind and helpful. Nearly all of them smile, even towards the end of the shift period. They make you feel welcome. They go the extra mile. If you are looking for a specific pavilion or a restaurant, they will not only show this to you on a map which they will give you – but will often offer to walk with you there. Or at least call a buggy to take you there.
Were There Any Disappointments?
1. Perhaps it is just my view, but I believe that at an Expo like this one, a Pavilion should project what the country has done, is now doing, and what it plans to do. How is the country different from other countries on the continent and in the world? Many countries missed this point. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a focus on technology which they will use. Singapore is just a multi-storied garden, when there is so much they could have said about the past and perhaps the future.
2. The visitor lines to enter some of the pavilions such as those of Japan, China and United Arab Emirates (UAE) were so long that it would take an hour of waiting.
And a few restaurants forgot to tell senior citizens about the discount for which they are eligible!
I am told that the Japanese Pavilion also displays the plan for Expo 25, which will be held in Japan. That is planning for you; something which we can all learn from Dubai and Japan.
We are sure that Japan will be able to implement the plan as well, if not better, than Dubai, to present another incredible event to the rest of the world.
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)