Authorities in the United Arab Emirates are expected to announce the postponement of Dubai Expo 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage global hospitality.
The jamboree was expected to begin on October 20th this year, kicking-off six months of celebrations in the emirate.
However, with global tourism in a virtual lockdown, organisers hope to allow time for a full recovery before the event.
Discussions are ongoing with the Bureau International des Expositions, the France-based organisation that awards hosting rights to the event, with a year-long delay expected.
A final decision can only be made by the bureau and the general assembly of nations.
In a statement on Monday, officials said they agreed to explore “the possibility of a one-year delay to the opening of Expo 2020”.
Many countries have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 and have consequently expressed a desire to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai.
Reem Al Hashimy, Expo 2020 Dubai director-general, explained: “While they remain firmly committed to Expo 2020, many countries have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 and they have therefore expressed a need to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai by one year, to enable them to overcome this challenge.
“The United Arab Emirates and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened.”
Al Hashimy added: “We supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at the steering committee meeting.
“We look forward to welcoming the world, which we are certain will only come out of this pressing challenge stronger, and more resilient than it ever was.”
The announcement followed a virtual meeting of the Expo 2020 steering committee, representing UAE officials and foreign countries that were set to exhibit at the world fair.
Global events have been thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympic and Paralympic games postponed last week.
That decision followed an earlier move from UEFA to delay the European championships for a year – leaveing Expo 2020 as the only major event still on the calendar.
If confirmed, the delay of Expo 2020 will come as a significant blow to the tourism market in Dubai.
Officials had hoped to welcome as many as 25 million international visitors to the event, with many of these trips likely to be postponed.
Dubai itself is currently under lockdown, with all restaurants, beaches, gyms and other public meeting places closed to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
To date there have been over 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Arab Emirates, with six confirmed deaths.
Confirmed cases worldwide now number 725,000, with 34,000 dead.
Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions, said he remained “confident that we will collectively overcome the challenges caused by this global crisis”.
He added: “The United Arab Emirates’ decision to support a one-year postponement demonstrates pragmatism, openness, and commitment to delivering an Expo that lives up to our shared ambition.
“We retain full confidence in the United Arab Emirates’ ability to host a world expo that inspires and delights millions, when the time is right.”
Authorities in Dubai are believed to have spent more than US$7 billion in preparation for the launch of Expo 2020.
Alongside the 4.38 square kilometre site on the outskirts of the city, dozens of new hotels have been built, while there has also been significant investment in wider infrastructure.
As the coronavirus pandemic has grown, work has been halted on construction, with as many as 30,000 workers downing tools as a result.
The news comes at a delicate time for hospitality in Dubai, which has been in the doldrums in early 2020.
Room rates have fallen, largely due to an excess of accommodation in advance of the expo debut, with visitor numbers also down on last year.
The cost of the hosting Expo 2020 had also raised concerns given the economic outlook in the Middle East.
Local authorities had hoped to resell the vast majority of the new expo facilities to private investors once the six-month event finished – a prospect increasingly unlikely during what is set to become a major global recession.
The market had already been teetering, with DAMAC Properties, the largest fully private real-estate developer in Dubai, announcing its first yearly loss since becoming a publicly traded company earlier.
Ratings agency S&P also downgraded the investment rating for Dubai real estate giant Emaar Properties, which is a third owned by the government.
When it opens Expo 2020 Dubai will be the first global showcase to take place in the Middle East, following successful events in Milan and Shanghai.
Organisers are gearing to offer events over 173 days, with 192 nations participating.
The theme centred on innovation, with countries and companies set to display projects in areas such as green energy, artificial intelligence and accessibility.
The event is designed to be a once-in-a-lifetime celebration – the largest event ever staged in the Arab world.
Guests will experience warm Emirati hospitality at its finest.
Youth are at the heart of the World Expo 2020, with the event aspiring to create a meaningful legacy that will benefit generations to come, both locally and globally, spanning everything from innovations and architecture to friendships and business opportunities.
Commenting on the current situation, director general Al Hashimy added: “As hosts of the next World Expo, scheduled to open in seven months’ time, we always knew that 2020 was going to be demanding, that we would have to be at our very best to deliver the most inclusive, most meaningful event in the history of our region.
“What we could not predict is that we would be doing so in the midst of the biggest global health crisis in generations.
“These are difficult, uncertain times, which makes it even more heartening to see communities around the world facing this challenge together and to witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit against a menace that does not recognise international borders or timelines.”
She added: “Today, however, for the United Arab Emirates and the world, our immediate priority is to overcome, together, this unprecedented menace and protect the health of all people, everywhere.”