GaWC Research Bulletin 155

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Tourism Review, 60 (3), (2005), 20-28.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


A Multidisciplinary Analysis of World Fairs (=Expos) and their Effects

P. De Groote *


Since the Great Exhibition of London (1851) around 70 international or universal exhibitions (i.e. Expos) have been held in more than 40 cities worldwide. A World Fair or Expo is an infrequently occuring celebration that typically showcases the latest or future advances in arts, culture, and technology. (J. Goldblatt & K.S.Nelson, 2001(2), p.212). Rules and regulations were set up by the BIE (1928, Bureau International des Expositions) in Paris. Each Expo was a show case of technological progress, represented in the pavilions (i.e. always an architectural reflection) of the participating countries and organizations. Until 1873 all the exhibits were integrated into a unique building (cf. Crystal Palace, 1851). More and more the Expo-sites were located extra-muros, and sometimes redeveloped after this mega-event into a (temporary) leisure or science park (e.g. La Cartuja in Seville, 1992) or a multifunctional urbanised area (e.g. Lisbon, 1998). Most of the Expos have a positive effect on income, employment (also for construction) and infrastructure (like roads, railway stations, airports, hotels), not only for the city but also for the region (e.g. Andalusia, 1992). Furthermore, the impact on culture, science, technology and tourism (including conferences) is very important. In this article we focus also on the successsfull Expo 1992 in Seville. However, Expos can generate an increase in prices (e.g. for catering and lodging), overcrowding and even environmental damage. Several Expos were even a financial disaster! The phenomenon known as the post-event depression was certainly the case for many Expos or Exposites. We can conclude that Expos still bear witness to their era and that they have tried to maintain the harmony and peace between people. Still they are showcases of the world with opportunities for communication, trade and tourism. In 2000 the Expo of Hannover in Germany was the first to be organised in the new century. In the future you are very welcome for Expo 2005 in Aichi (Japan) and probably in Shanghai 2010 (China).


The phenomenon of World Exhibitions or Fairs (= expos), which emerged in 1851, was primarily the product of an age of industrialization. Hence, if we want to trace the history of these mega- or special events (cf. typology in table 1), we must turn our attention to the development of the leading industrial nations (also with imperialism objectives) in the first half of the 19th century.

The Industrial Revolution is of the same importance for England as the political revolution for France. Great Britain was the leading industrial nation up to the mid-19th century. Such a universal advance of trade and industry brought with it the quest for an event to present the whole range of goods and wares, in order to demonstrate their merits and their achievements, as well as to promote sales. Initially, the solution was found in the organization of national exhibitions. Later, in 1851, the idea of the Expo took root (it was Prince Albert's idea, the husband of Queen Victoria); the first one of its kind being held, as was to be expected, in London. Great Britain provided the initiative for an event in the form of the Expo, which acted as a focal point for the budding aspirati­ons in the fields of technology, science, education, art, social welfare, and international relations (read: imperialism objectives).

To clarify, we shall later present some of the most important of the multitude of Expos (namely London 1851, Paris 1889, Brussels 1958 and Seville 1992). Furthermore, we shall examine the motivating factors and attitudes, in short; how the characteristics of these events have changed. Next, we shall discuss how they reflected economic, social and political develop­ments in the world (and especially in Europe and America) as a whole. Then, we shall see how these changes are reflected in the exhibiti­ons themselves. We can conclude that by the end of the 19th century Expos were functioning as a crystallizing point for industry, culture and social progress; exemplified by the improvements in civil rights, labour conditions and the building democracy movement in western society.

Table 1: Classification of Mega- or Special Events


Examples (and Locations)

Carnivals and popular festivals

Cultural events



Flower festivals

Gastronomy (food & drink)

Historical milestones


Political (personage) events


Religious events


Sports events

World fairs/expositions = Expos

Carnival (Bincke, Germany, New Orleans, Nice, Rio de Janiero, Venice)
Gentse Feesten (streetfestival)

Cultural Capitals of Europe
Biennial Venice, Documenta Kassel
Filmfestivals (Berlin, Cannes, Hollywood, Venice)
Avignon Festival, Holland Festival, Vienna Festival
Edinburgh Military Tattoo

De Keukenhof and Floriade in the Netherlands, British Garden Festival, London’s Chelsea Flower Show

Wine Purchasing/France (Fairs in Bordeaux, Paris)

Royal Wedding (London)
Bicentennial (200 years old) in USA (1976), Australia (1988)
Millennium 2000 (all over the world, esp. in London, New York, Paris)
Commemoration of D-day (6 of June 1944) in Normandy
500th Anniversary of the Discovery of America (1492-1992)(cf. Expo Seville)

Presidential inaugurations
Funerals of heads of state
Papal visits
Major political summits (e.g. EU in Brussels)

Passionsspiele Oberammergau/Germany
Pelgrimages (Lourdes, Mekka, Santiago de Compostella,Varanasi)
Processions (Holy Blood in Bruges)
Semana Santa (Spain)
Papal Coronation and Holy Year (Rome/Vaticaan City)

Summer (2004 Athens) and Winter Olympics (2006 Turin)
European (2004 Portugal) and World Cup Soccer (2006 Germany)
Marathons (Boston, New York)
Grand Prix Racing/Formula 1 (e.g.Monaco)
Tour de France
Rallys (Paris-Dakar)
Grand Slam tennis (e.g. Roland Garros, Wimbledon)

Expo 1958 (Brussels), Expo 1967 (Montréal), Expo 1992 (Seville), Expo 2000 (Hannover), Expo 2005 (Aichi)

Source: De Groote 2004


2.1. Definition

Expos have no more than 150 years of history behind them. Since the Great Exhibition of London in Crystal Palace in 1851, around 70 international or universal exhibitions have been held in more than 40 cities. The Expo is unquestionably a response to the drive of an era characterized by universality and the speeding-up of history. Among the many ways which society has of scrutinizing its future, the "expo" concentrates in a reduced space and in a relatively short time (this temporary nature differentiates Expos from museums) the most varied paraphernalia, the most diverse facets of human ingenuity, in order to find the meaning of our time and the direction in which it is moving. The "invention" of Expos works like a great sociological laboratory for testing the reception and spreading of new ideas and information.

A World Fair or Expo is an infrequently occuring celebration that typically showcases the latest or future advances in arts, culture, and technology. (J. Goldblatt & K.S.Nelson, 2001(2), p.212).

2.2. Organization


The origin of Expos dates back to the fairs in ancient times. Centuries passed and economies changed; where it became possible in the middle ages to view a primitive form of market diversification through the diffusion of new products advanced by the increasing technology of the times. Around this time and until the middle of the 19th century, industrial growth accelerated and, little by little, the first national exhibitions appeared in 1850: progress was born, with :

  • the financing of new heavy industries (e.g. steel),
  • the improvement of productivity, and
  • two great industrial (and imperialism) powers, France and Great Britain, emerged.

Eventually this gave rise to the first Expo in London in 1851, providing a forum where all the products (more than 17.000 objects) of all the nations could be exhibited. Organisers of this first exhibition were unanimous in their will to emphasize how important the economics of this phenomenon was.


We can see a proliferation of Expos between the end of the 19th century and the end of the second World War. Without any clear reference on an international scale, it was found that each country abided by its own rules. In most cases there were ad hoc regulations that proved to be insufficient to ensure the quality of the demonstration. Therefore, rules and regulations became an urgent need. The first agreement, the international convention of Berlin, signed on October 26th 1912, was never put into force because of the first World War. The final conventi­on was signed by 39 countries (the USA was not a member until the late 1960's) in Paris on 22nd November 1928.

It came into effect only in 1930 and provided for the creation of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) (=International Exhibitions Bureau) in Paris. The members (91 countries or member states in 2004) are involved with the selection of the new Expo destination.

  • Its field of action affects International Exhibitions, which must satisfy certain criteria:must be regarded as "exhibition", demonstrations having a principal instructive purpose with the participation of more than one country;
  • frequency and lasting quality: it should not be less than 6 weeks or more than 6 months. From 1st January, 1995 the period between two recorded exhibitions should be a minimum of 5 years (cf. Hannover 2000, Aichi 2005, Shanghai 2010);
  • recording : the government of the welcoming state has to inform BIE of its project. After 6 months, the latter will carry out a preliminary investigation to test the feasibility of the project. If the BIE agrees, the government requires the BIE to have its recording accompanied by the general location of the future exhibition;
  • prizes: the BIE has to inform if any awards will be given;
  • custom tariffs: all the commodities which will be exhibited or used for the presentation of foreign products have the advantage of a temporary administration, and therefore are not bound by any import limitations.

The BIE handles the application for a convention. The choice of a date for the organization of an Expo is closely connected to the scope of the project and is appraised in view of the choice of the city and of the guiding theme as well. A classification (table 2) is made by the BIE between the International Specialised Exhibitions (formerly category A or general exhibtion) and the International Recognised Exhibtions (formerly B or special exhibition). A general exhibition is one that includes products of several branches of human activity, or is organized to show advances in a given domain. A special exhibition deals with one single applied science or activity.


Topics specify the designation of the exhibition, indicating the guiding principle of the demonstration, while maintaining its intellectual and moral ambition. Thus, the topic "detached pavilions" reflects the importance of some discussions or fields of occupation at a given moment in history. Henceforth, all exhibitions will display a humanitarian theme and will stop being a purely industrial exhibition.

Table 2: Classification of the Universal Exhibitions


International Specialised Exhibition (Universal Exposition =Category A = general)

International Recognised Exhibition (International Exposition = Category B= special)

Subject of the Expo:

- All subjects of human activity
- Examples:
. Brussels 1958
"For a more human world"
. Montréal 1967
"Terre des hommes"
. Osaka 1970
"Human progress in harmony"
. Seville 1992
"The age of discoveries"
. Hannover 2000
. Aichi 2005
Nature’s Wisdom

- Concerning one special subject of human activity
- Examples:
. Tsukuba 1985
"Scientific Technology"
. Vancouver 1986
"World in motion/World in touch"
. Brisbane 1988
"Leisure in the age of technology"
. Taejon 1993
"The Challenge of a New Road Development"
. Lisbon 1998
"The Oceans: heritage for the future"
. candidates for 2008:
Thessaloniki, Trieste, Zaragoza

Characteristics: - Preparation

- Pavilions

- Frequency
- Surface Exposite
- Number or participants

. by the guest country

. built by the guest country:
- the general pavilion(s)
- the national pavilion(s)
- the pavilions for events etc.
. every participating country builds its own pavilion

. interval of at least five years
. very large area
. very high number

. by the guest country

. guest country builds all the pavilions. These are let to the participating countries, who set up their own expositions

. unlimited
. smaller area
. smaller number

Source: De Groote 2004, pressmap Expo Seville '92 and

2.3. Subjects (cf. Table 3)


So far, there have not been any exhibitions which have not started innovations or shown technical progress, esp. in the 19 th century. It is proved by the following examples, such as glass and steel in 1851 (cf. Crystal Palace), general use of elektricity in 1893 (Chicago). In 1900, the "rolling staircase" – escalator – created a sensation in Paris. In the same city the Parisians discovered the movie in 1900 and the television in 1937. The tape recorder, air conditio­ning and the washing machine were shown in New York in 1939. In 1958, people first discovered the Sputnik in Brussels. Recently an interest was taken in the application of the laser in Montréal (1967), and the Imax (projection) in Vancouver (1986). In Seville (1992) the technologies of data processing and telecommunications were of prime importance. Hannover (2000) focussed on virtual reality.


Crystal Palace in London (1851)(architects: Joseph Paxton & Charles Fox) prided itself on being the prototype of the (560 m long) modern construction from steel and glass. The theme of this unique building was shown in the collection of all sections of the building, which was a culmination of many factors, such as: experiences of previous exhibitions, principles of classification, desire to have a structure which provided also for the arts. These factors also played an important role in (London, 1867) the organization of the exhibitions spaces and in the transition which takes place from unique building structures and structures made up of detached pavilions. The "detached pavilion structure" (first used in Vienna 1873 and generalized in Philadelphia 1876) is definitely considered as the most functional, and allows each country to develop its own style.

The Expos left the world architectural mementoes, although these constructions were generally ephemeral and their subsequent demolition has deprived us today of the enjoyment of some really stunning landmarks (i.e. the still existing Eiffel Tower 1889 in Paris, Atomium 1958 in Brussels, Space Needle 1962 in Seattle). With all this architecture, the Expos expressed not only the spirit of their lines but also the "avant-garde" passions of their creators.

Exhibited Objects

The progress to a pavilion structure meant that objects are no longer exhibited in only one specific category, but in accordance with their home country. This method solves problems about the classification of items to be presented and their choice, which are the basics of the exhibition's pedagogy. In the big exhibition galleries of the 19th century all kinds of items intended for varied applications are shown. People also feel that they cover the whole scope of human production within a mere one thousand square metres. Whatever the valuation is, through the force of circumstances we can note that classifications develope because knowledge, like change, is continuous. In 1932, therefore, BIE established a classification of the exhibits in to nine categories.

Art and Culture

Exhibitions consider themselves as having a public relations function. The exchange which materializes during these exhibitions, is not only an exchange of images and suggestions, but of cultural and professional choices. Thanks to the French Universal Exhibition, we actually find the presence of the "beaux-arts" in all exhibitions, celebrating the French Masters. The Paris Expo in 1889 introduces decorative art, art deco, whereas the exhibition in 1900 stands out as the advent of "new art" (i.e. Art Nouveau or Jugendstil). Modern art (i.e. pop art) was presented (but not really appreciated) in the American pavilion in Montréal 1967.

Festivals and Spectacles

An atmosphere of popular festivity slowly slips into Expos at the end of the 19th century. In the 20th century, the festival atmosphere (events, fairs, music, parades) definitely overruns the Expo cities. The entertainment factor capitalizes on the frequent visits of sites, consolidating the huge audience for all exhibitors, guaranteeing them an optimal diffusion of their message.

2.4. Participants (cf. table 3)


The number of exhibitors varies depending on different circumstances. During the 19th century, Expos were essentially industrial, formed to bring together products and producers. They appealed to the latter, who visited Expos in search of novelties or with a view to establishing the superiority of their products. Since the 19th century, participation has increased and the number of represented countries has risen little during the 20th century exhibitions. This trend reflects the alteration undergone by Expos during the last two centuries: industrial products are no longer a novelty per se… but Expos are still a showcase of the world with opportunities for communication, trade and tourism.


Nowadays, considered as visitors are all those who attend this kind of event with one ticket. Visitors are considered "tourists", regardless whether they are away from their homes more than pre-defined 24 hour period or not. Visitors are not homogeneous. The exhibitions attract a wide variety of individuals: intellectuals, locals, people who are simply curious, tourism professionals, etc. The increase in the number of visitors follows more or less the same pattern as the exhibitors; national visitors forming the majority. Influence, however, fluctuates subject to whether the Exposites are situated in capitals or smaller cities.

Participating Nations

The presence of each nation at an Expo serves as a kind of calling-card, the public is offered the possibility to discover countries, however remote. Generally, a distinction is made between "official participations" and "non official participations" because of political, economic or financial reasons.

Thus, some governments refuse invitations from host countries but allow their nationals the freedom to participate. During these Expos, nations have the opportunity to show themselves in their true and better light, a chance to show off.

Ínternational Organizations

More and more the presence of humanitarian and international organizations has spread. The Red Cross appeared for the first time in 1867. It was not until after the second World War, though, that international organisations began to truly carry weight on the geopolitical scene. In Brussels (1958), many NGO's organisations appear: UNO, Unesco, Benelux and CECA (= the precursor of the European Community). In 1992, the European Community (EC) displayed itself as "a discovery" of the 20th century (in tune with the feature theme in Seville) through its scientific and technical innovations and its contributions to the future world. UNO, Unesco, FAO, BIT and (for the first time at an Expo) the Olympic Committee were also present in Seville.


Table 3 shows a general overview of the Expos between 1851 and 2005. Apart from London 1851 and Paris 1889, 1900, which we shall deal with in greater detail, world exhibitions lost their importance between 1900 and World War I on account of the general downward trend in the world economy. Following the end of World War I, world exhibition suffered further decline. The prospect of the nations of the world getting together once again in peaceful "confrontation" was made all the remoter by major political upheavals, armed conflicts and the difficult economic situation, along with the fact already mentioned, that trade and industry had found new means and possibilities for ensuring their goods were presented and sales manifested.

It was left to the USA – with its strong economy and national self-confidence - to revive the idea of Expos. The Chicago Expo of 1933/4, "A Century of Progress", put clear emphasis on scientific and technological advance as an essential transforming factor-touching upon all areas of human life. World War II interrupted the succession of Expos for nearly twenty years. Only as a general stabilization of the political and economic situation began to emerge, did people once again start to consider the idea of reviving world scale events. Belgium, a country with plenty of exposition experience, staged its Expo in Brussels in 1958.

The sentiment governing this exhibition and its successor in Montréal (1967) was a great desire to revive an awareness of the intellectual and cultural achievements of nations, taking account of differing social systems and this against the background of the scientific and technological advances of the age. Expo Osaka 1970, bore within it the seeds of the movement's dissolution. In the theme of the event, "Progress and Harmony for Mankind", exhibits of a technological or cultural nature had largely disappeared and were replaced by film, audio-visual displays and special effects, such as it was the case in all more recently exhibitions (i.e. Seville 1992 and Hannover 2000).

Table 3. General Overview of the World Exhibitions (1851 - 2005)

Source: Friebe W. (1985), Buildings of the World Exhibitions, p. 215-217. + Schroeder-Gudehus B. & Rasmussen A. (1991), Les Fastes du Progrès, 253 p. + Actualisation De Groote P.



Name : Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations / Area : 10.4 ha / Visitors : 6,039,195 / Significant Buildings : Crystal Palace / Technical innovations : Machinery in General

Exhibitions, in general, are a specific product of the contemporary world. One of the emblems of the new era is an individual urban society in which economic, commercial, scientific, technical and artistic exchange has become universal.

The first exhibition became truly international in London in 1851, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This apotheosis of a New World triggered a profound scientific and technological change, whose far-reaching consequences swiftly spread to all the corners of the globe.

The opening (1 May 1851) of the Great Exhibition in London revealed this Expo as the showpiece of architectu­ral novelties. Queen Victoria claimed to have contributed greatly to keeping peace in the world. The Expo closed on 14 October. The financial balance was very positive and Prince Albert invested a great deal in the creation of the new Albert & Victoria Museum.

More than 6 million visitors came to the Expo, a lot of them by railway. It was also a first experience in the organization of tours by Thomas Cook, wellknown as the real pioneer of travel trade.

Crystal Palace, made entirely of glass and steel, immediately became the architectural model for many subsequent exhibitions. The east side of Crystal Palace was kept for foreign countries, the other side was filled by Great Britain, the English Colonies and machines.

PARIS 1889

Name : Exposition Universelle / Area : 90 ha / Visitors : 32.2 million / Significant buildings : Eiffel Tower and Machinery Hall.

May 1889 saw the inauguration of the Universal Exhibition of the products of industry. Closing six months later, it turned out to be a financial success. For the first time in the history of French exhibitions, this one registered real profits. The exhibition grounds far surpassed the surface area of previous events.

In 1889 iron came into its own as a basic construction material. The Machinery Gallery was slightly smaller than Crystal Palace in London 1851. It measured 420 m. by 115 m. and its huge pillars made it an extraordinarily impressive structure. Its metal skeleton weighed as much as the Eiffel Tower, more than seven thousand tons. A rolling bridge converged the almost one hundred thousand daily visitors of this attraction along the length of the Machine Pavilion.

It should be remembered, however, that, at this time of the French Revolution Centenni­al Exhibition, many monarchies turned down the invitation from Paris. The commotion caused by the building of an impossible tower three hundred meters high attracted the attention of even absent nations.

Next to the Machinery Gallery, the Eiffel Tower (then with 300m the highest construc­tion in the world) became the symbol of the Universal Exhibition and the spectacular manifestation of French supremacy with calculations concerning iron structures, tensile strengths, industrial productions and technological development.

PARIS 1900

Name : Exposition Universelle / Area : 107 ha / Visitors : 50.8 million / Significant buildings : Grand Palais and Petit Palais / (Technical) novelties : Rolling staircase (= escalator), movie and of course the Art Nouveau.

The French Government saw its chance to stage another huge exhibition in 1900, especially when rumours began to spread to the effect that Germany was planning an Expo, an event which might possibly rob France (also a colonial power) of the prestige of an End of the Century Exhibition. The Expo site was again near the Champs de Mars around the Eiffel Tower but the area was enlarged in the direction of the Champs-Elysées and Les Invalides. It was opened on April 11th and closed on 12th Novem­ber, the event coinciding for the first time with the Olympic Games.

The visitors flocked to fifty windows, incessantly dispensing tickets for this paradise along the River Seine. The monumental Concorde Gate was the main entrance, leading to the Grand Palais. As the public streamed in through the main entrance, their astoun­ded gaze looked at a new and fascinating form of architecture. On this occasion there was also a "street" of nations which captured the admiration and interest of all visitors. Because this was an incomparable collection of beautiful palaces of all kinds, it came to be a unani­mous expression of the civilised world which had come to Paris, to celebrate the mark made by the 19th century in the face of mankind's progress. For six months, different people lived side by side, sharing one another's aspirations, trading works of art and customs like good neighbours. This sense of togetherness had not been experienced at any previous event.


Name : Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles / Area : 200 ha / Visitors : 41.5 million / Significant Buildings : Atomium / (Technical) novelties : Sputnik I, II and III (in the Russian pavilion) and colour television (in the American one)

Brussels, which witnessed an economic revival after World War II, represented the happy confluence of all forces of good will, which was reflected architecturally in the arrange­ment of the pavilions and buildings in the spacious, landscaped park on the Heizel and in the presentation of the individual countries in their own pavilions. It was largely to the merit of the architects that this positive effect was achieved. Aluminium was an important material for the constructions. The Expo was the summing-up of discoveries that the world had known for a century. The exhibition fell into four main divisions :

The Belgian section : a Wonderland Belgium showed the world its achievements in science, industry and art. On the Esplanade, in a framework of flower-gardens, spectacular events took place. The Expo had innumerable buildings to show the achievements of modern techniques; but among them, the Atomium was unquestionably the crown.

The Belgian Congo and the Rwanda-Urundi (later called Burundi) section : in this important section there were seven pavilions. They both gave a panorama of the modern Congo, with its industry and commerce, its mines .... and people.

The foreign section was set in a larger park. The most impressive of the many participants were those of France, the Netherlands, the United States and the USSR.

The international section : besides the exceptional interest in the pavilions sponsored by the eight international organisations, there were two buildings especially worth visiting :

the International Hall of Science, which showed the most recent advances in human knowledge grouped in to four main sections, the Atom, the Molecule, the Crystal, and the Living Cell; and the International Hall of Art.

The Atomium, a 120 meters high metal construction and lasting symbol (cf. landmark), brought to mind the prodigious forces of nuclear energy. With its nine spheres, or atoms, it is a giant model; of 165 billion times the elementary iron cristal on the scale of its atoms. The lower spheres housed scientific exhibitions of the peaceful use of atomic energy in the USSR, the USA, Germany, Italy and Belgium. The topmost sphere is still a fine panoramic restaurant, reached by a lift in 20 seconds (the fastest at that time). In 2004/5 the Atomium has been completely renovated.


Because Expo '92 is the last Universal Exposition (Type A) of the 20th century, the theme, "The Age of Discoveries", is particularly fitting. Indeed, what better time than the threshold of a new era to retrace mankind's greatest accomplishments over the last 500 years - and to gaze thoughtfully into the future. For the visitor, never again in this century will such an opportunity arise to experience the artistic, cultural and scientific achieve­ments of 108 participating countries, representing probably 80 % of all humani­ty. Situated on the island La Cartuja, along the Guadalquivir, Expo '92's stunning architecture, beautifully landscaped grounds and unrivalled schedule of events set the standard for expositions to come. Expo '92 was, in fact, a great universal fiesta, an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit with a total number of 41,814,571 visitors (66 % of which from Spain).

In 1983, the BIE granted the Seville event Universal Exposition status. Two years later it was decided that La Cartuja Island would be the Expo. The subject of the Expo has been determinated by tracing the pattern of progress in the fields of science, technology and culture that mankind has followed over the past five centuries, from the historic voyages of Christopher Columbus (especially to commemorate the discovery of America in 1492), up to the present day.

While tourism and agriculture have historically been the key earners of Andalusia, industrial development is expected to intensify.

Following the fair, plans were undertaken to transform the Expo site into Cartuja '93 , a research and development park designed to turn Seville into a hub of commercial and intellectual activity for the western Mediterranean.

An important part of the Spanish government's plan to spur development in Andalusia, the park is home to Spain's first World Trade Center as well as the country's Council for Higher Scientific Research, Seville University's new technology department and state-of-the-art research development facilities built by German computer maker Siemens, and an attraction park (= Mini Expo, and since 1997 Isla Magica) located in the sites of the former Spanish regional pavilions. But after some years this post-expo project seems to be a great failure and now it looks more like a ghost town.

Figure 1. Map of the extra-muros exposite of Hannover (2000) [not included in RB]

Source: Expo 2000 Hannover (presskit)


4.1. Location of the Expo-Sites

Expos often cause significant disruptions in the host town and its region. In return, they receive new infrastructure that can be adapted to their needs, depending on the Andalusian region's views of development. In the 19th century applicant towns were rather attracted by the opportunity to share in the wealth generated by these grand events. The balance of the induced effects on employment and the commercial gains can justify the effort put in to the organization of the Expos. However, due to the heavy up-front capital investment requirements, the Expos were often located in the capital city of hosting countries. In France, for example, Paris was the natural choice as the centre-pond of the democracy and the most recognized city in France, and even possibly in Europe in times gone. And this supremacy held until 1937.

4.2. Intra-muros and extra-muros sites

The first Expos took place in the heart of cities, inside the walls (= intra-muros). That was the case in London 1851 (Crystal Palace, close to Hyde Park) and for all the exhibitions in Paris (on the borders of the Seine). This intra-muros point of view was not followed by all the other European and American capitals. At the end of the 19th century a trend towards setting them up in the outskirts (or extra-muros) established itself: the exhibition of Vienna (1873) in the Prater Park, Philadelphia (1876) in Fairmount Park, Saint-Louis (1904) in Forest Park, Brussel (1935 and 1958) on Heizel, Seville (1992) on Cartuja Island (= historic place where Cristoph Colomb prepared his discoveries to the New World) and Hannover (2000, 160 ha, of which 100 in the excisting Messe-area, see figure 1).

Unfortunately, however, such sites have in the past died a slow death after the exhibition closes, or been completely demolished, which can be avoided by planning the expo-installations in the context of a global and collateral program of develop­ment in the city ( multifunctional urbanised area “Parque des Naçoes on the formerly exposite of Lisbon 1998).


5.1. Economic Effects

A fall in activity can create traumas once the exhibition is completed. These traumas can be avoided by through careful pre-planning to build sites with a multi-purpose character. Financial success is often not guaranteed for the event itself. Such financial concerns need not be an impediment to the future of Expos because the Expo provides infrastructure in a short term, and eventually regional development. Foreign investment and tourism receipts (cf. Seville for Andalusia) could mean that the Expo is profitable for the reception country in the long-term.

From an economic point of view, the exhibitions have a manifold impact (cf. types of impact of mega-events in table 4), which will lead (even if it is temporary) to an increase in income and establishment of jobs, but they will, on the other hand, lead to an increase in prices of real estate, lodging and catering (cf. Seville in 1992). Furthermore, they could incite negative reactions from local firms faced with new competition and the division of local manpower and government assistance. So, for some people, the view on Expos is that they have a passing effect on the economic activity and the positive impact (they could have) is too short to be significant. They do not increase resources while they necessitate expenditure and they have the unfortunate tendency to increase prices and to concentrate the national resources and receipts in just one town. They do not systematically involve a foreign trade growth and they are not profitable for every branch of industry or trade. For the countries which organize them, the Expos can play a catalytic role in various economic sectors, provided that regional and municipal structures can absorb this violent injection of activity and that they can sustain it. Indeed, an unavoidable increase in hiring occurs, but it is often followed by an inexorable slowdown. In Andalusia, for instance, the Expo of Seville directly and indirectly created 200,000 jobs.

During the Seville Expo more than 8,000 people worked on the site. The selling of the first subscriptions of participating nations immediatly created 450 jobs. The impact on employment has often been durable thanks to specific programs of training; so for example, the Spanish national company Telephonica trained technicians on the site. Other firms ensured the staff training for security (at first for Expo'92 but also for the following years...).

So, the people working on Expos have better job opportunities even after this period. The Expos of the last century involved an increase in trade, catering, lodging, events and railway turnover. Also, they sparked the creation of firms to respond to new needs. In 1867, for instance, "omnibus boats" on the Seine in Paris made the transportation of visitors easier. The same favourable impact is produced today. In Seville, a lot of services have appeared, mainly seen in the banking-sector, national companies and civil engineering firms.

The development of Expos is closely linked with the birth of tourism in general and the growth of the railways. The space necessary for the exhibition's building has led to the movement toward the outskirts of cities (= extra-muros). While this move was offered as one of the main criticisms of the Philadelphia Expo in 1876, for instance, it was viewed by others as a function of the urbanization of peripheral districts, which explains why landowners had a great interest to be present in the organizing structures.

Table 5 shows some "economic and touristic" effects of Universal Exhibitions.

Table 4. Types of impact of mega-events/attractions










Increased expenditures.
Creation of employment

Increased awareness of the region as a travel/tourism destination.
Increased knowledge concerning the potential for investment and commercial activity in the region

Construction of new facilities.
Improvement of local infrastructure

Increase in permanent level of local interest and participation in the type of activity associated with event/attraction.

Strengthening of regional traditions and values

Increased local pride and community spirit.
Increased awareness of non-local perceptions

Enhanced international recognition of region and its values.
Propagation of political values held by government and/or population

Price increases due to event/attraction.
Real estate speculation
Higher hotel prices

A poor reputation as a result of inadequate facilities or improper practices.
Negative reactions from existing enterprises due to the new competition for local manpower and government assistance

Environmental damage

Commercialization of activities which may be of a personal or private nature.

Modification of nature of event/activity/attraction to accommodate tourism

Tendency toward defensive attitudes concerning host regions
High possibility of misunderstanding leading to varying degree of host/visitor hostility

Economic exploitation of local population to satisfy ambitions of political elite.
Distortion of true nature of event/attraction to reflect values of political system of the day

Source: Ritchie B. (1984), in AIEST-Conference paper, Vol. 28, p. 26.

Table 5a. Percentage Decrease in Outward Tourism for Host Country

Table 5b. Percentage Increase in Inward Tourism for Host Country

Table 5c. Percentage Increase/Decrease in Inward Tourism to Adjacent Country




Artus (expenditure)

Gunadhi and Boey (visits)

Brussels World Fair (1958)

Montréal Expo (1967)

Tokyo Expo (1970)


17 (travel to USA)

11 (travel to W Europe)

13 (travel to rest of world)

49 (travel to Singapore)




Artus (expenditure)

Little (receipts)

Brussels World Fair (1958)

Montréal Expo (1967)


47 (travel from USA)

31 (travel from W Europe)

84 (travel from rest of world)

63 (travel from USA)
















Montréal Expo (1967)

6 (travel from W.Europe to USA)

17 (travel from Canada to USA)

6 (travel to USA)

3 (travel from Mexico to USA)

55 (travel from UK to USA)








Source: Witt S. & Martin C. (1984), in AIEST, Conference paper, Vol. 28, p. 218-220.
+ update: the number of international visitors to Portugal increased with 12% in Expo year 1998 (Lisbon) and 5% in 1999.

5.2. Scientific and Technological Effects

Expos are displays of innovations, or provide a good view of the current technical revival. They constitue, by the popularization of new industrial processes, a fertile field of observation and emulation and contribute to the development of knowledge. They also provide a venue forum for conferences. The hosting Expo cities were very important in organizing conferences, like Brussels ranked number 1 in the worldwide classification in 1958. Due to Expo 1958 Brussels recieved the status of a world city.

One of the essential objectives is to present the opportunity for the novelties that will have an influence on the development of science and technology to be presented. All Expos have fulfilled this role, with more or less intensity. At Expo 1855, aluminium was as a new material; in 1867, new processes of synthetic colouring were exhibited; in 1889, electricity competed with gas; 1878, 1889 and 1893, electric energy found industrial applications: the electric railway, the subway of Paris, medical materials...

Sixty years afterwards, audiovisual techniques dominated in Montréal. In Seville, the information and telecommunication technologies were highlighted with several novelties : a Digestar planetarium, a numerical network with optical fibre, a giant TV screen: the Jumbotron... .Also in Hannover 2000 high tech was incredible important.

As a conclusion, if the exhibitions are characterised by their magnificence and their festivities, their successes were still due to their usefulness. In the expansion of knowledge, science and technological popularization etc ... their role was considerable. Now, information spreads so quickly that it is no longer the Expo's main task to inform but to clarify the future of humanity.

5.3. Image-building

If, in 1850, the French prince Napoleon justified such an event mainly in economic terms, the arguments of the Expo's participants were often based on more abstract concepts, like the harmony between people. The exhibition can also be the opportunity for fellowship.

In this way, the Expos in the second part of the 19th century illustrated the exchange of knowledge on a universal basis, in technology as in sciences, in education as in art, social policy and international relationships. The Expo fulfilled several simultane­ous functions :

  • they were the scenes of an interdisciplinary history of society;

  • they illustrated the universal feature of the individual and commercial capitalist system in full development with a positive backdrop;

  • providing documentation about international progress, the universal exhibitions reinforced the belief in perfecting the human being and his final goal: the esta­blishment of a global universal civilization;

  • they responded to the need felt by the bourgeoisie, which was to find new means of public communication.

At the end of the 20th century, Expos have stayed true to most of these functions. They always increase the level of local interests and the participation in the type of activity associated with the event. They always strengthen the regional traditions, the values and the community spirit. But, importantly, they represent a modern and forward thinking display of each nation's contribution to humanity, and each nation's contribution to future development around the world, not just a glorification of past greatness (because, if the past were to dominate, the Expos would become a museum).

5.4. Social and Political Effects

From the very start, Expos have been a pretext to relaunch a national picture, to find a means to get out of isolation, to idealize political or economic realities... Thus, the starting point of great events of this kind is influenced in most cases by the wish to increase prestige, political and economic importance... and even to show the prosperity of the (British) Imperium (in 1851).

Expos have developed, naturally, a favourable climate for meetings and talks. They have also permitted the strengthening of global understanding and have often been followed by the creation of organisations which are aimed at perpetuating this understan­ding.

The Expos at the end of the 19th century paved way, for instance, the bringing down of heavy customs rates on American products from 70% to 30% imported to Europe. The choice of Spain as host in 1992 was a result of a convergence between the history of political and contemporary economic interests, this leading to Andalusia becoming less isolated, and making it a crossroads between mediterranean Europe, North Africa, and Latin America; and, in turn, stimulating the awakening of the Andalusian economy, which was inhibited by its geographical characteristics, its high unemployment rate and its unskilled workforce.

Andalusia is/was, indeed, the Spanish region which absorbs the largest part of national and European budgets devoted to regional development. Expo '92 was intended to energize the industrial recognition of the region and to propagate political values held by the government and/or the population.

On the other hand, the economic exploitation of the local population to satisfy the ambitions of the political elite, or, the distortion of the true nature of the Expo to reflect the values of the political system of the day are points put forward in opposition to Expos.

5.5. Infrastructure and Urbanization

Host cities and regions inherit an infrastructure more or less adapted to their needs, depending on whether it can be integrated into their urban development plans. In the 19th century, the lasting effects regarding town planning were not taken into account, in a period where ephemeral constructi­ons were the norm. On the other hand, the induced effects on the labor market and on the turnover of shopkeepers and others, which justified an Expo's existence, were often revoked. Nowadays, an Expo is inevitably accompa­nied by an ambitious operation of national and regional development, decisive for the life of a region.

In Montréal, the subway was extended under the St. Lawrence river, motorways and bridges were built, etc. More than US$ 700 million were invested in 6 months to support this programme. Expo '92 is the most ambitious project of develop­ment in Europe. Since 1987, Seville and in Andalusia, a US$ 10 billion infrastructure investment programme came into being, in transport, and in communication. A high speed train (AVE = Alta Velocidad Españo­la)(300 km/h), an express road and the operation of a new airport (San Pablo, capacity 10 million p/year) were constructed to reduce the travel time between Seville and Madrid. Between '91 and '92 the number of air passengers increased from 1.7 to 2.8 million. New hotels were built in Seville and in its region. CORAL, the Official Reservation Center, offered a total (hotel) capacity of 25,790 beds. Thus, thanks to this great development programme for the exhibition, Spain as a whole received a huge boost – supported by the Olympics in Barcelona in the same year (cf. Madrid as Cultural Capital of Europe in 1992 was less successful). They can also have negative side-effects. Environ­mental damage, overcrowding, social dissent, increased crime and a phenomenon known as the post-event depression may occur when the ‘hype' is all over. It is also difficult for such a complex "machine" to not run into some organisational barriers, especially when it is superimpo­sed on a restructuring plan that it also wants to celebrate.


Everything surround and marking an Expo can be used to promote a product or a collection of goods, services or beliefs, to proclaim a nation or a scientific discovery. If Expos are characterized by their splendour and their festivities, it is their utility which is truly their success. In the areas of spreading trade, knowledge, scientific and technical popularization, cultural exchanges, understanding foreign countries, cultures and even by their part of social adaptation, their contributions were considerable, esp. in the 19 th and begin 20 th century. Can one seriously say, however, that they are still necessary to expand trade or the knowledge of products and new technology? It seems to be there are no surprises anymore.

Today, a lot of other means have an impact on professionals. The thirst for information still exists. Science and technology are perpetuated by radio and television (passive attitude) on a daily basis or by technological parks like "La Vilette" in Paris (active attitude), which should have the same impact as Expos but with a permanent character. As for the "beaux arts", cultural exchanges, the development of transport, tourism, media, telecommunications, one can wonder whether a Universal Exhibition offers anything more than what is already available on a daily basis. We have to admit also that the debate about the economic rentability of these special events would not have an impact if vast scepticism concerning the utility of Universal Exhibitions were not so prevalent. Enormous events like the Universal Exhibitions, which were enlightening in their time, have marked the collective memory ...because all the world was represented as a showcase in one place. But isn't this a fantasy of a by-gone age?


Books and book chapters

Aimone, L. & Olmo, C. (1993) Les Expositions Universelles 1851 - 1900. Belin, Paris, 320 p.

Baschet, E. (1987) Les Expositions Univer­selles / Histoire d'un siècle 1843 - 1944. SEFAG & Les Grands Dossiers de l'Illustration, Le Livre de Paris, Paris, 192 p.

Bowdin G. Events Management. Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford, 321 p.

Bull, A. (1995), The economics of Travel and Tourism , Longman, Melbourne, 267 p.

De Groote, P. (1999) Panorama op Toerisme. Garant, Leuven-Apeldoorn, 342 p.

Derez, M. & Bousset, G. (1992) De Wereld ten toon : Wereldtentoonstellingen in de Universiteitsbibliotheek 1851 - 1992. KULeuven, Leuven, 149 p.

Friebe, W. (1985) Buildings of the World Exhibitions. Editions Leipzig, Leipzig 224 p.

Galopin, M. (1997), Les expositions internationals au XXe siècle et le Bureau International des Expositions , l'Harmattan, Paris, 361 p.

Getz, D. (1991) Festivals, Special Events and Tourism. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 374 p.

Gibbs-Smith, C.H. (1950) The Great Exhibition of 1851, a Commemorative Album. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 143 p.

Goldblatt, J.J. (1990) Special Events : the Art and Science of Celebration . Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 386 p.

Goldblatt, J. & Nelson, K.S. (2001)(2) The International Dictionary of Event Management. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 279 p.

Hoyle, L.H. (2002) Event Marketing. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 224 p.

Klein, L. (1986) Exhibits : Planning and Design. Madisson Square Press, New York, 252 p.

Kint, J. (2001) Expo 58 als belichaming van het humanistisch modernisme. Uitgeverij 010, Rotterdam, 406 p.

Mac Cannell, D. (1989) The Tourist, a new theory of the leisure class. Schocken Books, New York.

McKean, J. (1994) Crystal Palace . Phaidon Press Ltd, London, 60 p.

Mattie, E. (1999) Wereldtentoonstellingen . Emico, Antwerpen, 260 p.

Pasamonik, D. (1983) L'Expo et le style atome . Magic-Strip, Brussels.

Pinot de Villechenon, F. (1992) Les Expositions Universelles. Collection Que sais-je ? 2659, PUF, Paris, 126 p.

Schroeder-Gudehus, B. & Rasmussen, A. (1992) Les Fastes du Progrès : le guide des Expositions Universelles 1851 - 1992. Flammarion, Paris, 254 p.

Teixeira, L.C. (1992) Universal Exhibitions/ The world in Seville. Labor,Barcelo­na, 224 p.

Walsh-Heron, J. & Stevens, T. (1990) The Management of Visitor Attractions & Events . Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 128 p.

Weber, E. (1993) Art Deco . Bison Books Ltd., London.

Weiler, B. & Hall, C.M. (1992) Special Interest Tourism. Belhaven Press, London & Wiley Halsted Press, New York/Toronto, 214 p.

Wright ,C. (1989) The Seasoned Traveller . Christopher Helm, London, 267 p.

X (1992) Expo '92, Séville / Architecture et Design. Gallimard / Electa, Paris, 368 p.

X (1993) The Panoramic Dream 1885 / 1894 / 1930 : Antwerp and the World Exhibitions. Antwerpen 1993 vzw, Antwerp, 272 p.

X (2001) Tourist Attractions & Events of the World. Columbus Press, London, 346 p.

Papers presented to conferences

De Groote, P. (1993) Wereldtentoonstellingen . LUC-Congres Evenementen en Toerisme, Diepenbeek.

Ritchie, B. & Yangzhou, J. (1987) The Role and Impact of Mega-Events and Attractions on National and Regional Tourism. AIEST 37 Conference, Vol. 28 , 17-58, St. Gall.

Witt, S.F. & Martin, C.A. (1987) Measuring the Impacts of Mega-Events on Tourist Flows. AIEST 37 Conference, Vol. 28, 213-221.

Other documents

BIE (Bureau International des Expositions)(1990), Bulletin 1990 , Paris, 90 p.

Donckier de Donceel, A. & Destrée, J. (1958) Brussels 58 Guide . La société de l'Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles, Brussels, 110 p.

Nunez, J.A. (1992) Panoramicas de la Expo Universelle de Seville.

Rispa, R. & Alonso de los Rios, C. (1992) Expo '92 Official Guide. Expo '92 S.A., Seville, 336 p.

World's Fair (periodic/The Journal of Premier Events and Attractions), since 1981, U.S.A.

X (1958) Officiële Gids voor de Wereldtentoonstelling Brussel 1958, Ed. Desclée & Cie, Tournai, 342 p.

X (1986) Official Souvenir Guide Expo 86 / The official Guide to Expo 86. Expo 86 Corporation, Vancouver, 137 p.

X (1989) 1889, La Tour Eiffel et l'Exposition Universelle. Catalogue, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 271 p.

X (199?) Promenade aux Expositions Universelles 1880 - 1958. Ed. Métropolis, Brussels.

X (1991) Séville à l'heure de l'Expo '92. GEO 154, 87 - 143.

X (1992) Recuerdo Illustrado Expo '92 TNT Leisure España, Seville, 194 p.



* Patrick De Groote, Limburgs Universitair Centrum, Belgium,

Edited and posted on the web on 6th December 2004

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Tourism Review, 60 (3), (2005), 20-28