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Swiss feel pinch at Hanover Expo 2000

The Swiss Zeri pavilion at the Hanover Expo 2000 is experiencing financial trouble Keystone

The Swiss exhibitors at Expo 2000 in the German city of Hanover are putting a brave face on what commentators say is a disastrous fair. Visitor numbers have fallen far short of predictions, and the fair is haemorrhaging money.

Representatives of the official Swiss pavilion, the “Swiss Sound Box”, admit Expo 2000 has so far failed to attract anything like the expected 40 million visitors. But the pavilion’s spokeswoman, Clare Schnyder, said it was still too early to draw conclusions, even though a third of Expo’s time is already up.

The German government warned at the weekend that unless there was a significant rise in the number of entries, Expo would face a deficit of more than DM1.8 billion ($900 million) by the time it closes at the end of October.

In an attempt to reverse its fortunes, the fair on Monday launched a new advertising campaign costing 70 million marks and featuring personalities like the veteran actor, Peter Ustinov, and the German TV star, Verona Feldbusch.

Schnyder is optimistic that the campaign will help to turn things around, although she emphasises that the “Sound Box” is less dependent on numbers because it is not as commercial as many other pavilions.

“Of course we are trying to sell, but it is not the main object of our presence here,” she told swissinfo. The main sales come from three bars at the pavilion which Schnyder says are well attended.

“In fact, our cappuccino is a real hit at the Expo,” she said. Their official hat, affectionately dubbed “Cascetteli”, has also been a big seller and is part of the staff uniform.

However, the advertising campaign may have come too late for another Swiss-funded pavilion. The Geneva-based environmental group, Zero emissions initiative (Zeri), says its sales have only reached 20 per cent of forecasts.

The result, says Zeri’s pavilion manager, Anders Karlsson, is that it may be forced to pack up and leave. Part of the problem is that Zeri’s pavilion cost twice as much as expected.

“This overspending has put us in a tight spot and we now have to recover a lot of money, and that’s what we‘re struggling with,” Karlsson said, but also criticised Expo for raising expectations too high.

“They said 40 million visitors would come here. Whoever made those predictions has caused a lot of problems. Many stores and restaurants have based their sales expectations on these figures,” he said.

Karlsson does see a ray of hope in an increase in the number of visitors over the past two weeks. He is confident the advertising campaign will manage to sustain the flow. Zeri’s manager in Hanover also says the interest and support he has received since warning he may have to close down could help to keep the pavilion open.

But even it does turn out to be a financial failure, Karlsson says it has already been a success in terms of new ideas and projects.

“If you look at it from a communications point of view and project-development point of view, which is the real reason we are here, we have been very successful. We have many visitors coming here wanting to know what Zeri is about, and we have also developed projects in Thailand, in Africa, in East Timor and in Australia based on our presence at the Expo 2000.”

by Greg Morsbach

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR