Dubai beat off opposition from Brazil, Russia and Turkey on Wednesday to win the right to host the 2020 World Expo, sparking celebrations in the Gulf city and a stunning fireworks display at the world’s tallest building.
City authorities declared Thursday a school holiday to celebrate the victory.
The Burj Khalifa tower, which stands 828-metres (2,717-feet) high, was lit up with the pyrotechnics, while fireworks were also set off elsewhere in the coastal city.
There were jubilant crowds at the foot of the tower and in Dubai’s shopping malls.
“I am so proud to be living in the city of the future,” beamed Indian student Depika, who said he was born in Dubai and had seen the city “develop very quickly”.
“This announcement makes me even prouder to be Emirati,” said Yacoub al-Shamsi, whose wife donned a scarf in the colours of the UAE flag over her black abaya cloak.
The Gulf city beat Russia’s Ekaterinberg in the final round of voting in Paris to clinch a prestigious event that is credited with delivering a huge boost to tourism and business in the host city.
Dubai, the economic and transport hub of the United Arab Emirates, won 116 votes in the third round, comfortably beating Ekaterinberg with 47. There was one abstention.
The four candidate cities, which also included Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Turkey’s Izmir, had pulled out all the stops during 20-minute presentations before voting by the 168 member states of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE), headquartered in Paris, which oversees the organisation of the events.
The Emirates kicked off their presentation by pitching Dubai as a futuristic, glitzy city.
The victory for Dubai — home to the world’s tallest tower, largest man-made island and one of the world’s busiest airports — means the World Expo will be hosted by an Arab country for the first time.
It also confirmed the growing success of Gulf states in bidding for international events. Nearby Qatar, somewhat controversially, is to host the 2022 football World Cup.
“We renew our promise to astonish the world in 2020,” Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, said after the win.
“Dubai Expo2020 will breathe new life into the ancient role of the Middle East as a melting pot for cultures and creativity,” he said in a statement.
He promised the Dubai expo will “undoubtedly stand out as the best edition in the history of the event in terms of preparation and presentation”.
Job boom in tourist sector
According to UAE officials, 40 percent of the estimated 227,000 new jobs expected to be created as a result of Expo will be in the tourism and travel sectors.
The site chosen for the event, is spread over 438 hectares (1,082 acres) and located between the international airports of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates.
Brazil, which is already gearing up to welcome the World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in 2016, had roped in famed Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil to play versions of Bob Marley’s reggae hit “No Woman No Cry” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” for its presentation. But it was in vain as Sao Paulo failed to get past the first round.
Izmir, a city on Turkey’s western coast, was eliminated in the second round of voting. It had already bid for a chance to host the 2015 Expo but lost out to Milan.
Ekaterinberg’s pitch included a video appeal by Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev to “give Russia a chance”. With a population of 1.4 million, Ekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth-largest city and had hoped to capitalise on its recent endorsement by Forbes magazine as Russia’s best place to do business.
The World Expo, a modern-day successor to the Great Exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries, showcases technology, architecture and culture.
Shanghai was the last host city and Milan is next in line in 2015. The Chinese city set a record by attracting a record 73 million victors to the event.