The marketing and communications expert Sholto Douglas-Home has ample experience in tourism, property, and media. He was the Chief sales, marketing, and communications officer for Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world exhibition in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, which attracted over 24 million visitors.

He is now working on developing Expo City Dubai, the World Expo’s legacy city and an innovation-driven, people-centric city of the future committed to maximising its positive social, environmental and economic impact.

Before joining Expo 2020 Dubai, Sholto Douglas-Home focused on leading high-profile brands through awareness and international adaptation challenges, guiding marketing teams through martech and data transformation projects and managing diverse and internationally dispersed teams.

From 2008 to 2020, Sholto Douglas-Home gained extensive operational experience at the board level for Hays plc (an FTSE 250 global staffing company with operations in 33 countries). Before joining Hays, he held worldwide marketing and communications roles at Reuters, a news and financial information company, and senior marketing roles at the telecoms giant BT Group in London. While at BT, he was seconded as sales and marketing director at the New Millennium Experience Company, the UK government organisation responsible for the country’s millennium celebrations, including the Millennium Dome in Greenwich.

At Dubai Expo 2020, he brought together the sales, marketing, communications, and creative studio departments to ensure the team was as efficient, collaborative, and coordinated as possible to deliver millions of visitors through the gates. His main challenge is transforming the Expo from a six-month event that took almost eight years to create into a city that will live for centuries.

Millions of people came to Expo 2020, creating a powerful brand and putting Dubai and the UAE on the world stage when hosting global mega-events. A royal decree which announced and formalised the creation of Expo City, Dubai also set out how it would build on the legacy and success of the World Expo to further enhance Dubai’s position as a destination for global events. The next big step was the UN climate conference, COP28, which Expo City hosted in November-December 2023.

“There are several threads to our growth. We’re continuing this sequence of major events from Expo to COP28 while, at the same time, we are building a whole new city. Cities are where people live. They play, they work. The city protects them; it also provides employment and entertains them. Our lives are built in cities, so we are creating our culture, values and personality. We must keep the flag flying regarding events, but we’re also building a destination for businesses, residents and visitors essential to Dubai’s 2040 Urban Master Plan.

“At Expo City, we offer offices, leisure facilities, F&B options, event venues, and fitness grounds, as well as an array of attractions, entertainment, and cultural experiences. We’re also building villas, townhouses and apartments, with the first residents set to move into their homes in early 2026. We have gone from running a six-month event to creating a destination for the next six centuries.”

Located midway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai and connected to three major highways, it takes around 15 minutes to Dubai Marina, 45 minutes to Dubai International Airport, and around 90 minutes to Abu Dhabi. The Expo is next to Al Maktoum International Airport, key to Emirates Airline’s long-term plans.

“Expo City is a forward-looking blueprint for a future city, much more than a memory of the World Expo”

The entire Expo site is twice the size of Monaco, the second smallest country in the world, and there is also potential for more growth. Sholto Douglas-Home views the Expo City as a forward-looking blueprint for a future city, much more than a memory of the World Expo.

“We are responsible for retaining momentum on some of Expo 2020’s fundamental principles, such as sustainability. For starters, the city retained 80 per cent of the Expo’s built environment, and we were determined to remain true to our sustainable principles. We know that 60 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions come from cities, and our decarbonisation roadmap takes a ‘reduce, remove, offset’ approach to achieve net zero by 2050. In a nutshell, we aspire to raise the bar on responsible urban development.”

While cities housing hundreds of years-old buildings, such as London or Paris, will find it challenging to decarbonise to any great extent, Expo City feels it has an opportunity to demonstrate how cities can significantly contribute to tackling climate change.

“In our case, we can position ourselves and talk about ourselves as a model of sustainable urban life. So, we are that example if mayors or architects worldwide want to see how to build a city according to sustainable, 15-minute planning principles. We are also learning, applying technologies and investigating innovations that help place us at the forefront of sustainable cities.”

Expo 2020 Dubai brought the world together, hosting 192 countries and welcoming world leaders, global thought leaders, sports stars, entertainers, grandparents and schoolchildren. COP28 was another unifying force, bringing together world leaders, leading sustainability champions, and environmentalists.

Indeed, events and entertainment continue to be a major part of Expo City’s DNA. From the four-day Untold music festival to Winter City and Hai Ramadan celebrations to Spinney’s Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge and the Wings for Life World Run, there is plenty for visitors and residents to participate in.

Following COP28, the city is considered a go-to destination for the business events industry, with many versatile indoor and outdoor venues and the Dubai Exhibition Centre at its doorstep. Even more than that, people and organisations view Dubai and the UAE as a place to acquire knowledge and make a difference.

Sholto Douglas-Home says Expo City is responsible for building on the legacy of the World Expo and of COP28, where global talents can bring their ideas and innovative ideas will be nurtured and supported.

“One of the ways we can do that is to foster a community with purpose. We offer office space to organisations, NGOs, and sustainability champions. For example, Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programme, a global environmental, animal welfare and humanitarian youth outreach initiative, will establish its first permanent office in the region at Terra, The Sustainability Pavilion, working with Expo City to promote youth learning opportunities around sustainability and the environment.

“In another example, Siemens, one of our Expo 2020 partners and now a tenant of Expo City, has implemented its smart metre technology throughout our buildings. It gives tenants information about their water and energy consumption, helping them and our city as efficiently as possible.

“The UAE has a vision and a determination to achieve what others may see as impossible. It did this with the World Expo and will continue to do so with a sense of confidence and a clear strategy. There is no fear of failure.”