Up early to get ready for my first morning at Expo Milano 2015. Italian coffee and toast at The Four Seasons in the city centre. Four Seasons – why not? We are their local partner in the UAE, so it is only fair we avail of their wonderful services when overseas.
How to travel to the Expo site this week? Today I intend to go by car, 30 minutes from city centre – door to door. Tomorrow I intend to try the existing but in parts renovated tram system plus cab. On Wednesday – my final day – I will use the Milan Metro underground! While these transport systems were not developed specifically for Expo 2015, the site has been built in a highly accessible space. The significance of transport and logistics does not go unnoticed.
The mood around the city centre and famous Duomo and Le Scala areas was eclectic last night. There was the usual tourist hustle and bustle, but with a distinct Expo flavor, with all shops, restaurants and bars carrying Expo offerings of some sort.
One of my main objectives on this trip is to find out who goes to Expo and why? Today’s experience shows me that the attendees are a mixture of education and business, and the theme of feeding the planet is quite literal! Food, food, food everywhere! How can anyone on this planet be below the breadline and not have sufficient food to sustain themselves and their family? Is that what this is all about? As the day goes on the park swells with ever more visiting school children of all ages, from pre-preparatory to senior, learning about the different cultures or approaches to improving our environment.
One thing is clear from this initial snapshot – Milano has worked hard to showcase the best of the best of sustainable food and drink stuffs in the wake of a very fragile economy of its own.
The plan today was to visit my host Pavilions of UK, UAE and Qatar in the guise of a mystery shopper – no special treatment – to uncover what was being showcased. All three provided a terrific and warm welcome to all visitors, and each distinctive and unique in their approach – the UK focusing on sustainability and opportunity with a very impressive Beehive structure that one was navigated through; the UAE had longer queues but was very sophisticated in the ‘smart’ delivery of its sustainable and pro-environmental messaging; Qatar was a charming Pavilion focusing on the indigenous art of the region, as well as traditional artisan crafts such as creating and repairing fishing vessels.
The daytime soiree was hot – very hot – and a reminder of what it will be like at the same time of year in the UAE in 2020. There are real opportunities for ‘cooling’ refuges, sun cream application spots and hydration points – essential for the wellbeing of all visitors.
I am trying to formulate an opinion on the real benefit and legacy of hosting an Expo. The B2B opportunities during the event are not immediately obvious, apparent or even necessary, but I suspect the build up and legacy is almost incalculable in financial terms. One of the positive outcomes of a successful Expo in the Middle East region will no doubt be the changing of minds and opinions of the safety, security and opportunity in the UAE, forever.
Top tip of the day – do not wear a business suit. Shorts and t-shirts de rigueur here! From what I have seen in Milano so far, the Expo 2020 organisers in the UAE may wish to consider a dress code compatible with its culture and values.
Keep up-to-date on all the happenings at Expo Milano 2015, with further insights on this extraordinary sustainable food showcase to come.