The Future Of Mega-Events: How Remote Work Technologies Could Enhance The Global Reach of Expo 2020 Dubai

"Imagine a complete scale reproduction of the entire Expo 2020 Dubai site -down to the smallest detail- and unhampered by the rules of reality. Want to instantly teleport your virtual avatar from the Australian Pavilion to Al Wasl Square? It's just a mouse click away."

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The future of work is changing, and the global pandemic has only accelerated the process. As more workforces switched to remote setups in 2020, digital platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting quickly saw their user numbers soar. With the imminent arrival of COVID-19 vaccine, there is hope our world might be returning to some semblance of normality in the near future, but the trend of remote working looks set to continue well into the next decade.

Expo 2020 Dubai

In an email recently obtained by The New York Times, Google revealed it wouldn’t be sending employees back to the office until September 2021, three months later than they first anticipated. Even then, the company will be offering employees a “flexible work week,” with the expectation of people being in the office a minimum of three days a week, and the rest of the time working remotely.

It isn’t just large corporations delving into the remote way of work. Governments are now also embracing the pandemic to reform long-overdue digital transformation strategies. In Dubai, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum recently announced sweeping reforms that would cancel 50% of government service centres and convert them into digital platforms within two years, as well as merging about 50% of federal agencies with each other or within ministries. Indeed, a number of new ministerial positions have already been created within the Ministry of Economy as well as the Ministry of Culture and Youth.

But What About The World Of Events?

The switch to remote working and learning is one thing, but what about all the other situations that bring a large group of people together? The in-person events sector has suffered greatly during the pandemic. In a survey by Live Design, a creative and technical resource for live entertainment professionals in the United States, over 76% of the 107 companies that took part indicated that they had lost over 75% of their business since March. In terms of surviving the pandemic, only 26% of the companies felt they had a 100% chance of survival.

Bleak statistics from the events industry are no surprise, considering lockdowns and social distancing measures. But there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, and it relies heavily on technology.

In December, Dubai hosted the only major technology event to go live in 2020. GITEX Technology Week 2020 featured 1,200 exhibitions, 300 startups, and 350 in-person speakers from around the world. While it was the first in-person mega event to be held in Dubai since the pandemic began, for the first time, guests were able to purchase a virtual ticket, opening access to the event for a much larger number of people; importantly, to an audience that might not have been able to attend at all.

Putting on our future strategy hat: how might we reimagine the future of global mega-events as we converge current social trends with cutting-edge virtual technologies?

Related: What Does It Mean To Be Truly Digital? A Global Crisis Exposes The Cracks

The Next Global Mega-Event: Expo 2020 Dubai

Originally slated to kick off in October 2020, Expo 2020 Dubai is now set to run from 1 October 2021 until 31 March 2022. With less than a year to go, organisers are committed to maintaining the originally projected targets for the global event, but regardless of its successes, what if Expo 2020 Dubai could be attended virtually?

Imagine a complete scale reproduction of the entire Expo 2020 Dubai site -down to the smallest detail- and unhampered by the rules of reality. Want to instantly teleport your virtual avatar from the Australian Pavilion to Al Wasl Square? It’s just a mouse click away.

This would not only help to bolster the event’s original visitor projections, but with 49.7% of global households having access to a home computer, and 4.66 billion people having access to the Internet, the Expo 2020 Dubai team could be looking at one of their greatest challenges turning into one of their most exciting opportunities, making it a truly global affair.

The kicker is that a number of companies are already capable of creating custom digital platforms for this exact purpose- today.

VirBELA is one of the leaders in the field, utilising an immersive, cloud-based technology platform that offers users a virtual world for business, events and education. In the second quarter of 2020, VirBELA recorded a revenue growth of 260%, along with a four-fold increase in active users. Early on in the pandemic, the platform successfully reimagined the Laval Virtual World event from an in-person conference to a digitally enhanced three-day event, featuring interactive conference halls, as well as open-table discussions, presentations, games and entertainment.

A local contender is Virtuworx, a software platform that provides an avatar-based hybrid of virtual reality and mixed reality environments. Conceived pre-pandemic by The Virtulab team, the platform is now being rolled out to offer clients a custom-built digital environment for work, events and learning. Virtuworx specialises in creating bespoke one-off events and was recently used to host the first virtual avatar based TEDx event, TEDxLytteltonWomen 2020, recreating an auditorium and a stage that mimicked the exact sets of the TEDx events we’ve all seen countless times on YouTube.

The Virtulab is an operating company under CG Tech, an investment holding company with entities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, South Africa and the United Kingdom, and a sister company to the more familiar Al Laith, based in the Middle East. Under the leadership of chairman Niall Carroll and chief ecosystem officer Jason English, the Virtuworx platform is an example of a business recognising a challenge in the market and thinking entrepreneurially to create value through a compelling solution. Both men feel The Virtulab team would be more than capable of recreating a parallel, digital twin of Expo 2020 Dubai campus, attendable by anyone with an internet connection. “We would definitely be up for the challenge,” says Carroll. “The Virtuworx platform could translate and accommodate the entire two square kilometre events space into an enhanced virtual reality metaverse, giving over four billion people around the world the ability to experience the world’s first virtual Expo, in a way that no country has ever been able to do before.”

As the world adapts to this new normal, the future of remote events looks set to enter a phase of unprecedented scale and disruption, the likes of which we have never seen before in a global mega event. And who knows who your virtual avatar might bump into at the virtual Expo 2020 Dubai, revealing perhaps the biggest advantage of all- a form of social distancing, without the isolation.

Related: Building A Legacy: Tala Al Ansari, Director, Scale2Dubai, District 2020

Dr. Petar Stojanov

Written By

Dr. Petar Stojanov leads the Innovation and Future Strategy practice at Black, a global design and innovation advisory. A quantum physicist turned future strategy expert, his team advises governments and organisations to develop regulatory and policy frameworks around disruptive technologies, accelerate talent, and build innovation portfolios with tangible human and commercial impact extending into the billions.