Yeosu Expo hits 8M target, but future unclear

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Yeosu Expo hits 8M target, but future unclear

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After meeting its target of 8 million visitors, including 400,000 foreigners, and generally receiving positive feedback, the Yeosu Expo 2012 wrapped up its 93-day run in South Jeolla yesterday, although questions remain about what positive effects it will generate for the local economy.

Some 1,000 people attended the closing ceremony at 7:30 p.m. yesterday on the Big-O stage, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, as well as local Yeosu residents.

The show included cultural performances by crowd favorites Angola and Argentina and a fireworks display. Earlier that day, the UN chief launched a new initiative to promote the sustainable development of oceans at a conference marking the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a maritime treaty.

This was in line with the expo’s theme of “Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities.”

The expo commenced on May 12 with the participation of 104 countries and 10 international organizations, 80 pavilions and the largest aquarium in Korea. Throughout its three-month run, some 170 K-pop stars graced various stages around the expo site, which also saw thousands of cultural performances.

Initially, there was concern that the sleepy southernmost port city with a population of 300,000 people would not be able to draw enough visitors. But after a slow start that saw about 50,000 tourists turn up each day in June, daily traffic doubled in July as the summer vacation season kicked in.

In its final four days, the number swelled to 270,000 visitors a day to smash the eight-million mark yesterday just after 8 a.m., according to the organizing committee. The number of foreign guests overall fell short of the 550,000 target.

However, due to concessions and discounts that were offered to draw the large crowds, the committee said ticket sales revenue fell short of expectations by a cumulative 60 billion won ($53.06 million). It initially anticipated generating sales of 182 billion won but only reached two-thirds that amount, or just under 130 billion won. The expo cost 2.1 trillion won to stage, with the government contributing 480 billion won in the form of loans, according to the organizers. They said such deficits are not uncommon at international expos.

There is also concern about what lies in store for Yeosu and the expo site as the organizing committee has not publicized a clear plan of what it will do with some of the major attractions, such as the Korea Pavilion, Sky Tower and the site itself.

Yeosu Expo organizers said the popular aquarium will be run by Hanwha Group, and the floating stage and Big-O will likely continue to be used, but they have refrained from announcing concrete plans for the other exhibitions.

Most expo pavilions are temporary structures that are torn down once the event ends, but as in the case of Shanghai, which hosted the slightly larger World Expo in 2010, its hugely popular China Pavilion remained in place alongside a new expo museum that was subsequently built.

Also in attendance at the closing ceremony was an Italian delegation ahead of the follow-on expo in Milan in 2015, which will run under the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Some 93 countries have already confirmed their participation.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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