This South African is helping to drive an expo so big it is comparable to the Olympics with 60 live daily events for 173 days

2019-09-12 04:50 - Marisa Crous
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Dubai is hosting the next World Expo in October 2020, Expo 2020 Dubai. Gearing up to stage the greatest show of human brilliance, with more than 60 events per day, over a period of six months, it will host all 192 countries. Dubai is expecting 25 million visits, with more than 70% anticipated from outside of the MEASA region.

And African countries are playing a key role in this World Expo with the majority already confirming their participation.

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The Vice President of Programming at the expo and the astonishing new Dubai Exhibition Centre is a South African, Shaun Vorster. Playing a key role at the expo, he says  “There will be no place on the planet offering more exceptional business networking opportunities than Expo 2020 Dubai, and the DEC will be right at its heart. Bookings are already going well and this latest 3D animated fly-through, which gives a taster of the high-tech facilities on offer, has already sparked keen interest among the 192 countries participating in Expo 2020.” 


(Shaun Vorster. PHOTO: Supplied)

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Shaun forms part of a team that is tasked with delivering more than 60 live events each day for 173 days, across the Expo 2020 site. That’s more than 10300 live events over the course of six months and should probably qualify us to be the biggest live gig on the planet starting 20 October 2020. He is also responsible for the 60000 sqm Dubai Exhibition Centre (DEC), co-located with Expo 2020 – overseeing its operations, sales and marketing.  

We asked him a few questions: 

Any key themes you can share with us in terms of Expo 2020 celebrating human ingenuity? And any you feel could be particularly of interest to South Africans? 

"Expo 2020 won’t simply be 173 days of world-class entertainment and enjoyment; we’re also working to ensure it leaves behind a meaningful and lasting legacy. We want our visitors and participants to leave with a sense of empowerment and purpose; a renewed and lasting optimism about our future.  

"Expo 2020 Dubai is introducing a number of firsts in World Expo history. For instance, it will be the first time every participating country has its own pavilion – each featuring a wealth of vivid experiences to showcase its people, culture, innovations, achievements and aspirations. 

"The 192 Country Pavilions, including the South Africa Pavilion, are located not according to geography, as in previous World Expos, but instead by their chosen Expo 2020 sub-theme of Opportunity, Mobility or Sustainability – providing an enriched experience for all nations. Each of the countries will bring together stories that show how far humanity has come, how mobility and opportunity have transformed the way we live, connect and travel, and how sustainability is becoming deeply embedded in our every day lives.

"Visitors will be able to travel the world in one place, no passport needed, meaning Africa – and everything it has to offer – will become accessible to the world in new and unexpected ways. From discovering what the future holds for South Sudan to tasting the next big super-grain from Ethiopia, there will be no barriers to connecting minds at Expo 2020 Dubai."

What do you expect to see in terms of South Africa’s presence at the event?

"President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed South Africa’s participation in Expo 2020 and I cannot wait to discover how our nation plans to present itself to the world at its pavilion during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the first ever World Expo in the Midlde East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region." 

TIP: Visa applications for South African passport holders to the UAE are relatively easy, especially if you fly with Emirates Airline, which offers a simple online process. 


(PHOTO: Supplied)

How will the expo cater to the 'bleisure' (business + leisure) segment?

"Technology will play a key role in helping deliver the ultimate ‘bleisure’ experience at Expo 2020.

"Visitors will be able to enjoy cashless shopping experiences, tours using augmented reality, and a realm of possibilities with 5G at one of the world’s most connected sites. And by using the event app, business visitors can tailor itineraries depending on time and interests to visit all their favourite countries (without visas, airport transits and gruelling flights), discover new cuisines, traditions and technological feats, all while exploring a world of music, culture, creativity and making memories that will last a lifetime."

How can the South African MICE sector make the most of Expo 2020 - particularly small businesses? 

"With 25 million visits expected, including high level delegations, Expo and the DEC offer a unique opportunity to connect with with world. We expect countries, corporations, universities and others will send trade and government delegations, scientists, researchers, and other professionals to participate in networking, knowledge exchange and business matchmaking.

"For business in South Africa, and the rest of the world, this is something not to be missed, and I anticipate that many individual business leaders and delegations will want to capitalise on this opportunity.

"South African companies of all kinds and sizes can also benefit from the Expo 2020 Online Marketplace (OMP), a free global eSourcing Portal that connects businesses who may otherwise not have connected. More than 37400 suppliers from 151 countries have registered. All tenders related to Expo 2020 are exclusively posted on the OMP and Expo 2020 has committed to awarding 20% of the value of all contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)."

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Would it ever make sense for an expo like this to be held in South Africa in the future?

"Mega-events such as the Olympics, World Cup or World Expos can support the efforts of host nations towards nation-building, shifting perception about the destination, nurturing a spirit of volunteerism, expansion of the hospitality industry’s skills pool, and encouraging citizens to think of themselves as tourism ambassadors.

"In the case of Expo 2020 Dubai, I’m often asked what will happen to the site once Expo closes in April 2021. The answer is District 2020 – a future city that will retain at least 80 per cent of Expo’s built environment, including Al Wasl Plaza, the Dubai Exhibition Centre and the Sustainability Pavilion, which will become a children and science centre.  A total of 145000 people will be able to live, work, and relax in a purpose-built city of the future."

Tell us a bit about being a South African expat in Dubai. A good move? 

"I’m never surprised when I read that the UAE has been ranked among the world’s top 10 countries for expatriates to live and work. Dubai is a city with vision, with bold leadership, and an abundance of multi-national talent from whom I continue learning thanks to an inclusive society."

"Of course, Dubai is famous for its landmarks, beaches, nightlife, theme parks and many other activities that would typically fill a tourist’s itinerary. But there’s so much more ‘off the beaten track’ that makes this city a beloved home for resident expats from the world over: cycling in Al Qudra desert, stand-up paddle-boarding at Nessnass Beach or camping in Hatta; from having breakfast at your favourite café to indulging in the most amazing fish basted with a ‘secret sauce’ at a no frills restaurant in the traditional fishing harbour in Umm Suqeim. "

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