Arabic cuisine cooking tips from famous chefs and robots with catchy messages about biofuel-powered planes are playing a role in spreading awareness of the UAE at the Milan Expo 2015.
Presenting the Emirates to an international audience during the fair, which ends in November, is part of groundwork being laid in Italy for Dubai's expo in 2020.
UAE airlines and tour companies have reported a rise in traveller numbers to Milan, with residents including the city in their plans to see Europe.
"It's not just about the traffic we generate during the expo period, it's a unique opportunity to talk to a global audience,” said Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways chief commercial officer.
Etihad and its partner Alitalia are the official carriers of the expo. It is estimated that over the six-month period about 20 million people will visit the expo, with about eight million travelling to Milan by air.
"When people see the UAE pavilion they find it amazing. We [Etihad] also have a strong presence because this is the first expo in which we are directly involved with our first standalone pavilion,” said Mr Baumgartner.
"Interest in the UAE at the Milan Expo is heightened because we will have the opportunity to host expo 2020. This is a good ramping up to the Dubai expo, it gives us our first flavour of how to get it right.”
The two-storey Etihad pavilion includes an Imagination Lounge, which hosts daily cooking events with stars including UAE chef Khulood Atiq and Italy's Gabriele Rubini, famous as Chef Rubio, conducting demonstrations in Arabian and international specialities.
Robot mascots Edi and Alia, representing Etihad and Alitalia, are also drawing crowds.
"The trick is to have something highly interactive to engage an audience so people walk out having something to remember,” said Mr Baumgartner.
The airline has tailored holidays that include an expo ticket with packages for students and reported a strong interest from Asian markets.
Visa applications from UAE residents have also increased.
"We've recorded a 15 per cent growth since last year driven mainly because of the Milan Expo,” said Sharan Khanna, regional manager of Cox and Kings global services visa application centre in Dubai.
"It's also because of awareness people have of the Dubai expo and showcasing of the UAE's stand in Milan.”
The majority of applicants are Indian expatriates, followed by Arab nationals.
British Airways also recorded a rise in demand for business and tourism travel to Milan.
"Customers not only go to Rome from Milan but to other destinations across Europe,” said Paolo De Rezis, British Airways' area commercial manager, Middle East and Central Asia.
"Italy is well known for history and culture, and Milan can surprise visitors to the expo with fashion, art, history. We see a strong demand to Milan because of the expo.”
Source: The National