x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai and Doha: a tale of two cities

Hosting Expo 2020 and the Fifa World Cup is likely to have markedly different ramifications for Dubai and Doha.

Major events like the Olympics, World Cups and World Expos are often about far more than the event itself. They usually have a parallel goal of projecting an image about the host city or country. Think of Tokyo staging the Olympics in 1964 or Seoul a generation later in 1988. Or post-Apartheid South Africa hosting the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the Fifa World Cup 15 years later.

One cannot help but apply this metric to the UAE and Qatar being awarded major events, with Dubai hosting Expo 2020 and Doha winning the right to stage the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Comparing these two is instructive. Both can be seen as declarative statements about their host country’s aspirations, but the World Expo and the World Cup have different effects on their hosts’ development goals.

For Dubai, there is a compelling economic case for it hosting Expo 2020. While the city hardly needs to be introduced to the world, having already established its reputation for having the tallest building and for the breathtaking scale of its development, hosting the expo fits neatly into the emirate’s steady and organic growth. The event will lead to the creation of 277,000 jobs, inject nearly $40 billion (Dh147bn) into the economy, and over the six months it is open attract between 25 million and 100 million additional visitors.

For the most part, the infrastructure improvements prompted by hosting the event – such as increasing hotel capacity, extending the Dubai metro and a mammoth expansion for Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central – will be of use long after the expo ends.

Hosting a major sporting event, on the other hand, can leave a country with a herd of white elephants. Qatar will attempt to avoid this by deconstructing many of its stadiums and giving them to developing countries. Grave doubts have also been raised about Qatar’s ability to host all the supporters who will arrive in Doha. The last tournament in South Africa recorded 3 million seat sales, more than twice the city’s total population.

The World Cup will never make Doha the centre of the footballing world and maybe it is this harsh realisation that has caused this week’s steep correction to the Doha stock market.

Contrast that with Dubai, an already established tourism hub and city of the future, that will be boosted further by hosting Expo 2020.