Expo 2020: How Dubai will handle the logistics challenge

It’s a remarkable accomplishment. Dubai has received the world’s overwhelming vote of confidence and will be the first city in the Middle East to host the Expo event. Behind the scenes, a massive logistics effort will be taking place to ensure success in 2020. Here are the details. [19 Jan 2014] HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, promised to astonish the world at the turn of the decade if Dubai won the bid. He said: “Dubai Expo 2020 will breathe new life into the ancient role of the Middle East as a melting pot for cultures and creativity.”

Exciting times lie ahead – but equally a task of huge proportions. How extraordinary to consider that Dubai, with its 2 million residents, will be preparing to host 25 million visitors, of whom 70% are expected to arrive from abroad.

Having so many international visitors at an Expo poses additional logistics challenges, faced by no other event until now. Expo 2015 in Milan expects to have 30% international visitors. Expo 2010 in Shanghai had just 6% of all visitors coming from overseas. Dubai is set to meet those challenges in several ways.

Assembling the right logistics assets

To efficiently manage such a vast increase in residency over the six-month Expo period, Dubai is investing in four main areas – public transportation and transit, accommodation, a strategically-positioned site and a highly scalable supply chain. Many of these assets are already in place or in advanced stages of planning.

Ultra-modern public transportation 

Dubai is well prepared for the sharp increase in passenger traffic. In 2012, Dubai International Airport handled almost 57 million passengers and is projected to become busier than Heathrow International. In addition, Dubai’s massive Al Maktoum International Airport began receiving passenger flights this year. Ten times larger than Dubai International, it is expected to have the capacity to handle 160 million passengers by the mid 2020s.

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Dubai leads the world in advanced airport facilities at Al Maktoum International Airport

The Metro is another of Dubai’s unique features. It’s already hailed as the world’s longest fully-automated metro network spanning 75 kilometers and serving 46 stations on two lines. The plans for 2020 are impressive. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) will fast-track a Dh5 billion expansion to include connections to the Expo 2020 site and to Al Maktoum Airport. By then the metro network will increase to 58 stations and have 90 kilometers of track.

Accelerated growth in accommodation

Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) reports that the total number of hotel and hotel apartment rooms in the city stood at approximately 80,000 in 2012. The Government is currently stimulating the building of many more hotels in Dubai, especially those in the mid range (3-4 star).

Research conducted by PKF Consulting in Dubai in this area indicates that at a conservative 6% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), a further 50,000 hotel establishment rooms could be added by 2020 – making 130,000 rooms in total. With an average length of stay being 3.6 nights, hotel occupancy rates could reach 90% in 2020. Spill-over accommodation would be available in neighbouring Emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

Ideally-positioned and purpose-built site

The site for Expo 2020 in Jebel Ali, within Dubai World Central, will be equidistant from the centres of Abu Dhabi and Dubai and be situated on the southwestern edge of Dubai. This 438 hectare open site will be designed for optimal traffic flow and efficiency. It will be located next to the new Al Maktoum International Airport and close to Jebel Ali Port, the third busiest port in the world. For the exhibitors who need to bring in their materials and construct their pavilions, as well for visitors, the site will offer many logistics advantages.

Highly scalable supply chain management

Expo’s six-month duration will place greatly increased demands on Dubai’s food and beverage and retail sectors. The city is well served with many large shopping malls but these and other retail points will need to ensure that they are always well-stocked. Dubai is fortunate to have a number of professional supply chain management companies.

The focus will therefore be on integrated and highly scalable Dubai logistics suppliers who can rapidly adapt themselves to support changing market conditions. Demand planning, stock availability and understanding of FMCG supply chains will become even more critical. Many multi-nationals such as McDonalds and Starwood already have scalable solutions in place. Many more will require specialist local assistance.

Ready for the task ahead

Looking at the wide range preparations being undertaken by the UAE Government and the large-scale private sector investments already in the pipeline, it seems clear that Dubai is on a smooth track to delivering one of the world’s most memorable Expo events.