Dubai has arrived at the future

The emirate and association hub has seized the zeitgeist

Museums tend to collect, preserve and exhibit snippets of history, but Dubai’s recently opened Museum of the Future is indicative of the emirate’s forward-looking approach.

The striking oval structure was built as an exhibition space for ‘innovative and futuristic ideologies, services, and products’, a theme that has been synonymous with Dubai since 2013 when it won the bid to host the Expo 2020 – a showcase of almost every country on the planet.

To accommodate the 24 million visitors that would eventually visit the Expo between 2021 and 2022, following a pandemic-enforced delay, the emirate raised a city out of the desert. And so, District 2020 was constructed - an end-to-end event city, with hotels, restaurants and the new LEED Gold-certified Dubai Exhibition Centre.

Dubai built legacy and sustainability into every stage of Expo 2020 Dubai.

“The history of mega-events doesn’t have a good reputation, they have always been a white elephant, so this was a critical focus. When we won the bid, we did two masterplans, the event masterplan and legacy masterplan. The latter included ensuring 80 per cent of buildings on-site would continue to be used after the Expo,” explains Sanjive Khosla, senior vice president of the transition unit at Expo 2020 Dubai. A masterplan that is already taking full effect.

In February 2022, a month before Dubai Expo 2020 officially closed to visitors, the 45,000sqm Dubai Exhibition Centre welcomed the Dubai Association Conference - a meeting of international association professionals.

Martin Sirk, international advisor at the Global Association Hubs & founder of strategic consultancy Sirk Serendipity.

Martin Sirk, international advisor at the Global Association Hubs & founder of strategic consultancy Sirk Serendipity.

“Expo 2020 Dubai was not simply a phenomenal visitor attraction, it was the perfect platform for Dubai to communicate its strategic priorities to key individuals in the association world and many other carefully targeted sectors,” explains Martin Sirk, international advisor at the Global Association Hubs & founder of strategic consultancy Sirk Serendipity.

“I saw the impact of this strategy first-hand in the reactions of the international association leaders who attended the 2022 Dubai Association Conference. We also had behind-the-scenes tours of some of the amazing pavilions, and we heard from leading local innovators and policymakers about the links between economic development and the necessity of a thriving association sector. Many of Dubai’s recent association bid wins involved using Expo 2020 Dubai to communicate this message, and their presence in Dubai will advance key strategic economic objectives, not simply bring in high-spending delegates.”

Alongside economic objectives, Dubai is also looking to grow its knowledge sectors and the recent launch of Dubai’s Metaverse Strategy positions the city as a frontrunner in the sector.

The strategy aims to offer the world’s most advanced and connected ecosystem where the metaverse community can thrive in a dynamic environment. 

“The move consolidates Dubai’s status as a global capital of advanced technologies, primarily artificial intelligence (AI) and Web3,” says Dubai Business Events association vice president, Steen Jakobsen. “Dubai’s progressive regulatory environment and a world-class technological infrastructure that meets the evolving needs of international players have attracted several big names in the world of Web3, including cryptocurrency platforms, blockchain companies, and tokenisation firms.”

From the metaverse to climate change, 'Dubai has ambitious plans to establish itself as a leader in key sectors - especially in the ones that will shape our future and experience the most innovation over the coming years,' adds Jakobsen. Therefore, securing the bid to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in November 2023, is the most important opportunity for Dubai to flex its sustainability credentials to the expected 45,000 participants – making it what will be the largest COP to date.

“The UAE’s hosting of COP28 will be an important step in the country’s sustainability journey, and the fact that it will take place at Expo City Dubai further underlines the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai, which had sustainability as one of its key sub-themes,” adds Jakobsen.

But to gain notoriety in sectors it has previously neglected, and to remain a top-tier meetings destination, Jakobsen and his team know work never stops.

“Just as associations themselves are constantly evolving and adapting to the needs of their members and profession, so must destinations like Dubai in order to optimise their collaborative relationships and provide platforms for the impactful exchange of knowledge.”

“Visits to the Expo 2020 Dubai provided inspiration for their own expos and enabled them to make contacts in different countries for securing their international participation."

Tim Briercliffe, AIPH secretary general

Why choose Dubai?

In March 2020, the International Association of Horticultural Producers took its AIPH Spring Meeting to Dubai. It also marked AIPH’s first in-person meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic. We asked AIPH secretary general Tim Briercliffe why the association chose Dubai to host the meeting…

Tim Briercliffe, AIPH secretary general

Tim Briercliffe, AIPH secretary general

“Dubai was chosen to host our Spring Meeting because we felt the emirate was one of the best-prepared destinations for receiving people post-Covid, with easy and sensible measures for arrivals. We were also keen to link our meeting with Expo 2020 Dubai as this was of interest to our delegates.

“AIPH is the approving body for International Horticultural Expos, which are the green equivalent of Expo 2020 Dubai. At our meetings, all our upcoming expo organisers present their progress. Visits to the Expo 2020 Dubai provided inspiration for their own expos and enabled them to make contacts in different countries for securing their international participation.

“Dubai also aligns with AIPH’s goals because it takes an interest in sustainability and city greening which fits with our mission as ‘the world’s champion for the power of plants’. We were very pleased with the choice to hold our meeting in Dubai.”

Coming to Dubai

In 2022, Dubai Business Events (DBE) confirmed 99 successful bid wins to host a variety of meetings in the coming years. These are expected to attract more than 77,000 delegates. Here’s what’s coming up…

  • The International Congress of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (2023)
  • IFOS ENT World Congress (2023)
  • IBM Best in Tech (2023)
  • 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28 in 2023)
  • Congress of the Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association (2024)
  • International Congress of Endocrinology (2024)