Yeosu Expo comes to end after three months of mediocrity

The Yeosu Expo ended what was widely rated as an underwhelming 93-day run on Sunday. Although the event managed to make its target of 8 million visitors, organizers had to frantically sell tickets at heavy discounts and needed volume buying from schools and public organizations to hit the mark. Foreigners accounted for around 400,000 of the visitors, short of the target of 500,000. Clockwise from top: Ticket windows are quiet on May 13, just the second day of the expo; the main road featuring the display halls isn’t exactly buzzing with excitement; the state-of-the-art aquarium was one of the rare venues that consistently pulled a crowd. (Photo : The Korea Times)

No fanfare

Yeosu Expo ended its 93-day run Sunday after highlighting exhibits that stressed the eco-friendly use of oceans and coastal areas. However, visitors were left wishing that organizers had managed to get the message across in a more creative and entertaining way as the majority view seems to be that the event was rather colorless and lacking in imagination.

Organizers did succeed in their goal of luring 8 million visitors but this superficial achievement seems irrelevant when the expo continued to create a buzz for shortcomings and mishaps instead of positive reasons.

Perhaps, its organizing committee was its own worst enemy. Their obsession of making the visitor target had organizers frantically selling tickets at heavy discounts, adding up to a money-losing event.

The 30,000 won tickets were sold at one-tenth of the price during the last days of the run, according to organizers, who could only blame themselves for managing ticket revenue that barely touched the halfway mark of its 190 billion won goal.

The committee also showed it was ill-prepared to handle large crowds. It seemed obvious from the start that there were some venues, including the massive, state-of-the-art aquarium, will draw more people than the facilities were designed to accommodate.

Organizers were confident their reservation services would be more than enough to handle the crowds and avoid disruption. They didn’t.

Social media sites were filled with complaints with people talking about how long they had to wait under the scorching sun to enter the aquarium and some other pavilions.

Some old people and children even collapsed during the long wait and were taken to nearby hospitals. And the committee was eventually forced to can its booking policy, which drew even more complaints. While more than 2 million people visited the aquarium, not everyone said it was worth it.

Critics also say that organizers focused too much on promoting the expo instead of improving the event itself. Nearly 500 singers, including leading K-pop stars like Rain, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior, were involved in a large number of shows from the opening ceremony to the closing one. So, as the old Korean saying goes, the bellybutton sometimes seemed larger than the belly.

The committee failed to hide parochialism in the way it counted foreign visitors. It estimated the number of foreigners included in the tally at 400,000 in a Sunday release. But it failed to count them based on nationality or region of origin, roughly saying that the foreign visitors comprised of 79 percent “Easterners” and 21 percent “Westerners.”

The closing ceremony was held Sunday evening with Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Vincente Loscertales, secretary-general of the Paris-based Bureau of International Exhibitions, in attendance. Some 1,000 figures from all walks of life and Yeosu citizens took part in the ceremony.

Visitor turnout remained low at around 50,000 per day in June, but with the holiday season starting in July, it shot up to over 100,000 last month and to over 270,000 for four consecutive days this month.

The Yeosu Expo is the second of its kind held in South Korea after the Daejeon Expo in 1993.

The start of the 2012 Expo was marked by concerns as many wondered if Yeosu, a city of only 300,000 in southwestern South Jeolla Province, would be able to attract many visitors.

The organizers have called the event a success in that there were no major accidents or interruptions. The theme of “Living Ocean and Coast,” along with various attractions offered at the site also helped make the event a success, they said.

The next expo will be held in Milan, Italy, in 2015. <The Korea Times/Park Si-soo>

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