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Issue One REWIRE Magazine

The World in a Desert

Author Hugh Morris
Published 22 Nov 2023

Amid a global pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai brought the world fair to the Middle East for the first time. Here are five ways Hanover made it possible...

After years in the planning, Expo 2020 Dubai was all but ready to start. And then as sure as eggs were eggs back in 2020, the pandemic hit. Just like that, the organisers had to press pause on a global project and shift the once-in-a-lifetime event back by a whole year.

If convening the world in a desert to find solutions to the problems facing humanity wasn’t challenging enough at the best of times, between Covid testing regimes and ever-changing travel restrictions, Expo 2020 had quite the task on its hands.

It is testament then to the extraordinary work of Hanover teams split across both London and Dubai who supported Expo on its journey, from planning through to delivery, that the six-month event was a huge success.

Welcoming more than 24 million people from 178 countries, Expo 2020 Dubai far exceeded expectations, bringing the world together during one of the most difficult moments in recent history. But how did we do it? Here we share five elements that made it possible.


Hanover began working with Expo 2020 in 2016, resolved in the knowledge that preparation was key to ensuring the event was a success that lived long in the memory of both the UAE and the world. Preparations began immediately, laying the foundations for what would be the region’s first World Fair, a watershed moment for the Middle East.

We embedded a team of multilingual consultants in the Expo 2020 team, working across the most complex event ever hosted in Dubai, and began to draft contingency plans for every possible eventuality as work continued apace to prepare the event for opening.


No one could have anticipated the impact of the pandemic when it wiped clean the world’s calendar in early 2020. The Expo team understood immediately they would have to act decisively in pushing back the event, deciding to retain the 2020 branding to maintain a sense of calm and continuity in the face of crisis. All of a sudden, the region’s first World Fair took on a new significance as it became one of the first in-person gatherings of such a size and scale to take place since the beginning of the pandemic – a beacon of hope for the global community.

Harnessing the power of international business eager to get the world back on its feet, we positioned Expo 2020 Dubai as the moment for businesses (of all sizes), international organisations and governments from all corners of the earth to form new partnerships and discover new opportunities in the pursuit of resilient and sustainable economic growth.


Expo may have had over 200 national participants, but there was inevitably a focus on what the UK would do. We amplified the UK’s involvement, spotlighting the £1.2 billion worth of business won by UK companies with Expo organisers and suppliers ahead of the event, as well as the £188 million of ‘export wins’ achieved by UK companies associated with Expo 2020 Dubai. There remains cause for optimism with expectations for wider UK benefits during and after Expo 2020 to be significant – Milan Expo 2015 secured an economic boost worth £1 billion for the UK.

When UK’s National Day rolled around in February, Hanover was delighted to welcome to Expo a delegation including Prince William the Duke of Cambridge, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. More than 40 events were held to celebrate British culture, sport and innovation, with theatre performances, a “selfie from space” and the Queen’s Baton Relay.


Everyone knew Expo 2020 Dubai was happening but not everyone could get there. Thanks to a patchwork of different and variable travel restrictions inflicted on the world by the pandemic, Expo 2020 had to be agile in how it engaged with media, managing journalists through a web of traffic light tiers, Covid testing and biometric passports. Thankfully, the event had myriad specialist weeks and moments running throughout to shed light on different challenges and issues faced by the world – from Water Week to Health & Wellness.

Hanover worked hard to promote Expo at every stage and from every angle, landing architecture-focused op-eds in The Planner, global development interviews in Devex and flying out a video journalist from sustainable publication, edie. We also secured a visit from a senior business journalist from the Sunday Times, coverage in luxury magazine, Spears and a future-facing review in CityMonitor. But perhaps of more interest was the multi-platform paid campaign we executed with MailMetroMedia, with advertorials and takeovers running across the Metro newspaper and MailOnline during a homepage takeover, Expo 2020 content received nearly 30 million impressions.


Expo 2020 Dubai knew from the start that as important as the event itself, was what came after. District 2020 is a new city that has risen from the ashes of the World Fair, reimagining urban living across a smart, mixed-use community aligned with Expo’s vision of innovation and opportunity. Retaining as much as 80 per cent of original infrastructure, District 2020 is a sustainability-first project, with water consumption down 50 per cent against a typical city and 22 per cent of energy derived from the sun.

Where Paris 1889 had the Eiffel Tower, Expo 2020 Dubai leaves the world with a blueprint of the cities of the future.

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