From Expo '88 in Brisbane onwards, countries started to use World Expos more widely and more strongly as a platform to improve their national images through their pavilions.

In a world where a strong national image is a key asset, pavilions became advertising campaigns, and the Expo a vehicle for 'nation branding'. Apart from cultural and symbolic reasons, organising countries (and the cities and regions hosting them) also utilise World Expos to brand themselves.

Tangible effects are difficult to measure, but an independent study for the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2000 estimated that the pavilion (which cost around €35 million) generated around €350 million potential revenue for the Dutch economy. It also identified several key success factors for World Expo pavilions in general.

Leading to Expo 2020, Dubai has already signed up a number of international pavilions that will participate including Luxembourg, which was the first country to sign the official participation contract. Other participants include Switzerland, Cuba, Bahrain, Oman, U.S.A., Malaysia and as many as 150 countries are expected to take part.

Participants can build their own pavilions in which they can display their ideas, experiences and best practices on the Expo theme. From the outside, the pavilions are innovative architectural structures inspired by the identity of the participant and by the Expo theme. Inside, the pavilions offer visitors a journey through the theme and showcase innovations and discoveries.