GaWC Research Bulletin 318

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Globalisation and Special Events: The Relevance of the Belgian Participation in World Exhibitions with Case Study Expo Zaragoza 2008 (Spain)

P. De Groote and L. Steen*

Key words: Expo Zaragoza 2008, Belgian Pavillion, sponsorship, visitor survey, return


Belgium is a loyal participant in World Expositions all over the world. Also as organiser of World Expositions Belgium is with the front runners. Antwerp, Ghent, Luik and Brussels have served many times as setting for this mega-events. Expo '58, more than 50 years ago, was undoubtedly the most successful Exposition in Belgium.

The participation in World Expositions and the organisation of it is not only a matter of time, but also of lots of money. The budget of the Belgian Pavillion is most of the time very limited in comparison with other countries. Nevertheless they usually manage to finish the participation with an equilibrium and even sometimes with a small profit, thanks to the sparing management.

For the budget – next to the share of the Federal Government, the Regions and the Communities – sponsoring and commercial activities are essential. The Flemish and Walloon Region both refused to support the Belgian Pavillion of Expo Zaragoza financially, so the anticipated budget shrunk. The organisation needed to reckon on the budget of the Federal Government counted up with the gains of the commercial activities and sponsoring.

Attracting sponsors is not an easy job. You can choose whether to work with new sponsors or sponsors from earlier editions. So it is important to keep up with the sponsors, to know their wishes and to fulfil them. It is also interesting for the sponsors to know on forehand what they can expect from sponsoring a World Exposition and who the visitors of the Belgian Pavillion exactly are. And how do they appreciate the Belgian Pavillion? Is it a beautiful pavillion? The participation must be relevant for both the sponsors and the visitors.

This paper shows the results of the first research ever done on the Belgian Pavillion concerning this subject of World Exhibitions.The visitor survey we have conducted is one of the first of its kind, dixit the BIE (Bureau International des Expositions Universelles) in Paris.

The aims of the research are double. On the one hand we want to find out with a visitor survey what the profile is of the visitor of the Belgian Pavillion. This will be restricted to the visitor of Expo Zaragoza 2008. Beside the profile of the visitor we also want to know what their motivations to visit the Belgian Pavillion, as well as their appreciations. This information can be taken into account by a participation in future World Exhibitions. With the same survey we also hear the non-Belgians about their knowledge from Belgium and we try to find out with what they associate Belgium.

On the other hand we want to know what the relevance is for the sponsors of the Belgian Pavillion by conducting in-depth interviews. We want to find out why they exactly choose to sponsor a World Exposition, we want to find out in which way they do that, how much or how they invest in it, … Moreover we also want their appreciation for the Belgian Pavillion and an appreciation for the collaboration between the sponsor and the organisation of the Belgian Pavillion. All of this information can help by the participation of Belgium in other World Expositions in the future. The research is restricted to Expo Zaragoza 2008.


For this research we used two different research methods: a visitor survey and in-depth interviews. The visitor survey is done by order of the Belgian Commissioner-ship-General of the Belgian Pavillion, under the leadership of Prof. dr. Patrick De Groote (University of Hasselt), with collaboration of Lawrence Steen (Masters in Tourism, University Leuven). The aim of this research is to describe the profile of the visitor of the Belgian Pavillion during Expo Zaragoza 2008. With the in-depth interviews we want to inspect what the relevance is for the participation of Belgium to World Expositions from approach of the sponsors of the Belgian Pavillion in Zaragoza.

Visitor Survey

The visitor survey is an example of qualitative research and reached 417 respondents in the Belgian Pavillion on Expo Zaragoza 2008. The survey is held during the total run of Expo Zaragoza from June 14th until September 14th 2008. Nearby the exit of the pavillion, the visitors were asked to complete the survey. These visitors were chosen ad random. After a pilot survey, we went three periods to complete this research: the first week of the expo, from July 2nd until July 14th with the Belgian National Day and finally the last week of the expo.

The web-based survey took about 15 to 20 minutes and, as we were around, the visitors had the opportunity to ask for help or more information about the aim of our research. After completing the survey, the visitor received a free drink in the Belgian Beer Restaurant.

The survey was divided into four parts. In the first part we wanted to check the profile of the visitor to the Belgian Pavillion on Expo Zaragoza. In the second part we wanted to know the motivations of the visitor to visit a World Exposition and the Belgian Pavillion. The third part shows us the appreciaton of the Belgian Pavillion. In the last part we asked non-Belgians to answer some knowledge questions about Belgium and we asked them with what they associate Belgium.

In-depth Interviews

Besides the quantitative research we also did a qualitative research by interviewing the sponsors of the Belgian Pavillion. The sponsors were invited by their personal E-mail address, which we received from the Belgian Commissioner-ship-General.

Every sponsor recieved the aims of my research and a structured questionnaire in order to prepare the in-depth interview. Finally 9 sponsors decided to take part in this research. The 9 sponsors are: Electrabel, Johnson & Johnson, Lotus Bakeries, Mayerline, Belgacom, Protos, Godiva, Vincent Sheppard and l'Escaut. The in-depth interview took more or less one hour.

The structured questionnaire consisted of two parts: “General and sponsorship” and “Questions about the Belgian Pavillion”.

In “General and sponsorship” we check out why a sponsor chooses to sponsor on a World Exposition. Besides we take a look at the condition against which the sponsor decides to sponsor and we take a look at the concrete effects of their participation in Expo Zaragoza. We also approach the sponsors to hear if they're gonna participate again in the future.

In “Questions about the Belgian Pavillion” we make an evaluation of the Belgian Pavillion and the collaboration with the organisation of the Belgian Pavillion according to the sponsors.


Visitor Survey: Profile

Figure 1 Nationality of the Visitors

The Belgian Pavillion welcomed during the three months of Expo Zaragoza approximately 1,2 million visitors. The total number of visitors to the expo was 5,6 million and 85% of these visitors were predicted to be Spaniards. When we take a look at the Belgian Pavillion we see that the Spaniards are also the biggest group with 55%. 26% are Belgian and 6% are Portuguese.

We had many Belgian visitors, first of all because it was the Belgian Pavillion and secondly because the Belgians were very interested in our research. This explains the high number of Belgian visitors. In reality the percentage of Belgians visiting our pavillion might be a little lower. The partition between men and women was more or less equal.

Figure 2 Age of the Visitors

More than 82% of the questioned visitors of the Belgian Pavillion is between 20 and 50 years. The biggest group is the age-group from 31 until 40 years (38%).

Only few visitors come alone to the Belgian Pavillion. More than 60% visits the Belgian Pavillion in the company of family. The rest visits the Belgian Pavillion with a partner, friends and/or colleagues.

Figure 3 Level of Education of the Visitors

More than 70% of the visitors of the Belgian Pavillion did higher education (university or college).

Figure 4 Occupation of the Visitors

The occupation of the visitors differs. Most of the visitors are students. In the second place it are mainly servants who visit the Belgian Pavillion.

Visitor Survey: Motivations

For 55% of the visitors it was the first time they visited a World Exposition. 22% of the visitors of the Belgian Pavillion visited Expo Sevilla yet and another 11% was present on Expo Hannover.

28% of the visitors try to visit all the pavillions. 17% told us that the Belgian Pavillion looked very attractive to bring a visit. For 16% of the visitors, the pavillion was on the track and so they ended up accidentally in the Belgian Pavillion. 11% came because of the good Belgian image.

12% of the visitors came for business as part of a delegation or to promote their products.

10% of the visitors of the Belgian Pavillion intend to visit Expo Shanghai in 2010.

Visitor Survey: Appreciations

Figure 5 Appreciation of the Expositions in the Belgian Pavillion

More than half (56%) of the visitors give the expositions in the Belgian Pavillion a score from good to very good. 36% thinks the expositions are nor good nor bad. The remaining 7% thinks the expositions are bad to very bad.

Figure 6 Appreciation of the Information in the Belgian Pavillion

On this question the various visitors gave multiple answers. 62% of the visitors did get nor found information. 18% didn't need any information and 20% thinks the information is correct, up-to-date and useful.

In the opinion of the researchers it was a great pity that there was no tourism information about Belgium. In comparison with the load of tourism information in other pavillions was this a missed chance. The representative of Toerisme Vlaanderen in Spain testified that he had an explicit interdiction to deliver information to the Belgian Pavillion.

The information present on the walls of the pavillion was badly readable because of the small font and too little lighting.

The shop was the most visited of all the facilities. The visitors were very positive about the quality of the products and the linguistics and benevolent staff of the shop. Only the prices were a bit too high.

The visitors were also very positive about the benevolence and linguistic knowledge of the staff in the Belgian Restaurant. But the service and the price could be better.

The reasons why the visitors would recommend the Belgian Pavillion to others are the thematic expositions (37%) and the good atmosphere (23%).

Finally, if we asked the visitors to give a general score for the whole concept of the Belgian Pavillion, 52% of the visitors finds the Belgian Pavillion good to very good. 40% finds the pavillion normal and 9% finds that the pavillion is bad to very bad. (1 = very bad, 5 = very good).

Figure 7 General Score for the Belgian Pavillion


DE GROOTE P. (2009), « Impact van Wereldtentoonstellingen: van Expo '58 in Brussel tot Expo 2008 in Zaragoza” in het boekje “België en de Expo's” Commissariaat-generaal voor de Wereldtentoonstellingen, Brussel, p.13-25.

DE GROOTE P. (2009), « Impact des Expositions Internationales: de l'Expo '58 à Bruxelles à l'Expo 2008 à Saragosse” in het boekje “ La Belgique et les Expos” Commissariat général de la Belgique aux expositions universelles, Bruxelles, p.12-25.

DE GROOTE P. & STEEN L. (2009), « De relevantie van de Belgische deelname aan Wereldtentoonstellingen. Case-studie: Zaragoza 2008” in het boekje “België en de Expo's” Commissariaat-generaal voor de Wereldtentoonstellingen, Brussel, p.26-65.

DE GROOTE P. (2009), « La pertinence de la participation de la Belgique aux Expositions … Etude : Saragosse 2008 » in het boekje “ La Belgique et les Expos” Commissariat général de la Belgique aux expositions universelles, Bruxelles, p.26-64.



* Patrick De Groote and Lawrence Steen, University of Hasselt / University of Leuven


Edited and posted on the web on 16th October 2009