Expo.02 juggernaut leaves competition reeling

Winterthur's Technorama - popular with schoolchildren - expects to lose a fifth of its visitors to Expo.02 Keystone

Swiss museums and tourist attractions fear the national exhibition, Expo.02, will deprive them of much-needed visitors.

This content was published on May 17, 2002 - 17:30

The Expo.02 juggernaut started rolling on May 15 amid great media fanfare and is causing severe jitters among Switzerland's less glamorous tourist attractions.

"We risk losing 60,000 visitors because of the media attention alone," says Hans Syfrig of Lucerne's Museum of Transport and Communications.

If predictions about visitor numbers for Expo.02 turn out to be accurate, the Lucerne Museum could see its ticket sales fall this year by between 13 and 15 per cent, which would cut revenues by about SFr1.5 million.

The losers of Expo

Few doubt that Expo.02 will woo custom away from Switzerland's other tourist attractions. Swiss-German television recently discussed that very issue in a programme called "The losers of Expo".

The director of Canton Bern's open-air Ballenberg Museum, Walter Trauffer, takes exception to the programme's title, but even he expects shorter queues at the gate.

"We expect a drop of around five to ten per cent in the number of visitors," Trauffer says.

He adds that reservations for tours look promising, but that fewer schoolchildren are likely to visit because class trips to Expo.02 are being subsidised.

Further east, at the Technorama in Winterthur, Remo Besio is expecting visits by schoolchildren to fall by half, and say that overall Expo.02 could deprive him of up to 20 per cent of his visitors.

The Hannover effect

At Lucerne's Transport Museum, Hans Syfrig is reflecting on the impact that the 2000 world exhibition in Hannover had on Germany's museums.

"In Germany, the effect of the Hannover fair varied according to the type of museum," he says.

Some, such as those dedicated to art or architecture, experienced a surge in visitor numbers because of the increased interest in fine arts generated by that Expo.

Expo.02 comprises four floating platforms - or "arteplages" - on four sites in western Switzerland's "Three Lakes Region".

Further south on Lake Geneva, the company that runs ferry services - which make for popular outings in good weather - is putting on a brave face, but admits that any thoughts of expansion are firmly on hold during Expo.02.

"A family taking in quite a bit at the arteplage will have less money to spend on our boats," says Bernard Aegler of the Lake Geneva Navigation Company.

One thing visitors won't find at Expo are animals, which means Swiss zoos are optimistic that their business won't be affected.

"In 1964, at the time of the last national exhibition, the loss in visitors was just two per cent. And it was during a time of heavy rains," says the deputy director of Basel's zoo, Roland Brodmann.

Anger over subsidies

Whatever the effect on their business, many Swiss tourist attractions are fuming at the scale of the government's handouts to Expo.02. To date, the public purse has pumped over SFr800 million into the national exhibition, which has been plagued by financial problems since its inception.

"The steamroller of Expo's marketing, financed with public money, is almost an obscenity," says Remo Besio, bitterly recalling the months of media hype that preceded the opening.

Walter Trauffer feels the same way. He says the Transport Museum might have to reduce its opening hours during Expo.02 if visitor numbers fall too much. This would mean shorter working hours for employees and consequently smaller pay packets.

Moreover, the museum is facing cuts in its subsidies next year, putting its future in doubt. This is a particularly bitter pill to swallow considering the SFr800 million the public purse has coughed up for Expo.02.

Trauffer is hoping that parliamentarians will vote in June to recognise the Transport Museum as a national museum, which would keep the cash flowing.

by Andrea Tognina, translated by MaryAnn Mathew

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