Saturday, June 06, 2009

World expo 2010 in Shanghai expects 60/70 million visitors

Expo 2010 modelImage by neufcent9 via Flickr
Apologies for not having blogged a lot here - apart from reposts from the weblog of the China Speakers Bureau -  but life has been pretty busy with events that would not really fit my blogging agenda. But now bit-by-bit the figures of next year's largest event in China - the Shanghai World Expo 2010 - are getting together, it is time to contribute a bit to the debate.
After the disastrous Beijing Olympics of 2008, disastrous in terms of economic and touristic targets, there is enough reason to be careful on all too optimistic noises coming from the diligent committee organizing the Shanghai event.
In some ways Shanghai seems to move smarter than Beijing. In stead of building a lot of white elephants that will be greatly underused after the 5-month event, Shanghai is mainly investing in infrastructure and its future. Of course, the expo will count a fair number of those buildings that will lose its function, but first those buildings are mostly build by foreign governments and when Shanghai will get one landmark building like Paris got with its Eiffel tower, that money might be well spend.
Also, much of the US$ 45 billion (whatever that is worth now) is going into subways and other improvements that will enhance the city greatly for the decades to come. Shaun Rein already noted that Shanghai is now spending more on its subway system than New York, and that seems a smart idea.
But when the organizing committee announced last week they would expect 400,000 visitors per day, an amazed representative from Liverpool twittered that this was the total amount of citizens living in his city. For my work at the international team of the WageIndicator I have obtained a calculator, a device I effectively tried to ignore earlier in my life, but now it became useful. We are talking here about 60 million visitors. Shanghai mayor Han Zheng must be using a different calculator, since the expects 70 million. Now, some of those visitors might be going twice, when they are anyway in Shanghai, but it sounded to me as a rather stunning figure.
Not in terms of logistics. Shanghai is now dealing each days with 20 million inhabitants, so compared to that normal operation, the World Expo is not that huge. But I wondered who all these people are.
Alright, ten million might be already living in Shanghai, but the other 60 million should be coming from elsewhere. Just like when the Beijing Olympics came into place, I was inclined to avoid Beijing during these months and I was not the only one, as we have seen from the dropping number of tourists. Just like in Beijing Shanghai has been increasing the number of visitors, visitors that did not emerge in Beijing, and might not emerge in Shanghai.
Would there be 60 million people outside Shanghai willing to visit this event? I feel it is a tough call. I might be too pessimistic, but the organizing committee seems clearly out of touch with reality.
Then we do not talk yet about the danger of very strict visa requirements. In Beijing before and during the 2008 Olympics many people who were still eager to visit the place or earn some pocket money could not get visas. Of course Shanghai Municipality will do its utmost best to avoid a similar predictment, but this is yet again an ideal moment for the ministry of foreign affairs to show they are in charge and not Shanghai. Internet censors will also draw their own line and limit access to the internet, like they did last week. Economic activity, including traffic, will be brought to a standstill to halt pollution and possible terrorist attacks.
This is of course the blackest scenario, but after the Beijing Olympics it seems also a very realistic one. I not convinced Shanghai will be able to avoid this scenario.
SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: A foreigner passes...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
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