Hanover - Expo 2000, the much-vaunted first world fair to be held in
Germany, is turning into a headache for organisers just a week after the
turnstiles began rotating.
Poor attendance figures, high entrance fees and embarrassing ticket sale
glitches have taken the shine off the extravaganza which opened last
Thursday and lasts until October 31.
So far the public have stayed away in droves from the ambitious show which
offers a stimulating glimpse of the future under the motto of "Humankind -
Nature - Technology".
Expo organisers had reckoned with 220,000 visitors a day but after a
promising start the figures slumped to around 90,000 tickets sold. Some
reports spoke of only 25,000 people turning up on one day.
Whatever the statistics say, there are no large crowds of people to be seen
on pictures from the Expo shown nightly on German television news.
Expo 2000 managing director Reinhard Volk has declined to issue exact
figures but in order to break even Expo must attract more visitors, not the
kind of doom and gloom commentaries carried by leading newspapers Wednesday.
"Dramatic lack of visitors at Expo," read the headline in the Sueddeutsche
Zeitung whose leader writer said: "A loss of prestige is looming and, worse
than that, a financial disaster."
"Expo gets off to a painfully slow start" wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine,
adding in a leader: "Expo 2000 is beginning to look like a limp balloon in
the sky of major international events."
The paper quoted Expo organisers trying to put a brave face on things and
urging patience now that a computer booking system is running smoothly. The
officials have also staunchly resisted calls to go downmarket by cutting
entry fees from a current 69 marks (some 35 U.S. dollars) per person and
slashing weekend supplements.
Around 360,000 people have so far visited the fair but if ticket sales
continue at current levels that will mean only 10 million people visit Expo
instead of the projected 40 million on which all the calculations were
A fair spokesman said it was too early to jump to conclusions, saying the
"Expo is a marathon, and we are in the first minute".
The problem is that the German taxpayer will have to pick up the financial
tab and politicians in Lower Saxony state, of which Hanover is the capital,
are already making noises about the heavy losses they may incur if things do
not pick up.
The location is another bugbear since Hanover is a quiet northern city with
an undistinguished hinterland unlike Lisbon, Seville or New York which have
previously hosted the fair. The city does not usually attract many tourists
Nearly 180 countries are taking part in the fair which features some
spectacular architecture, folklore displays and demonstrations of cutting
Notably missing though is the United States, which failed to find the right
sponsors and some critics are asking whether there is a place in the modern
world for a fair in the tradition of the first exposition which was held in
London 150 years ago.
Britain's Guardian newspaper was among the sceptics: "The signs, in other
words, are that this is a concept on the retreat, as might be expected in an
age when people no longer need to go to a specific place to learn of the
latest technological advances."