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Expo Zaragoza

Reflections on a World’s Fair

This summer there was a “World’s Fair” in Zaragoza, Spain, taking as its theme water and sustainable development, but according to Jack Samuels, the event created few ripples outside its own country. Here Park World’s resident “Fun Doctor” offers his own reflections.

First let me explain the difference between different types of Expos or “World’s Fairs.” Special Class exhibitions, such as the event in Zaragoza, are limited in size and scope and generally run only for three months or so. Most of the pavilions are built by the fair organisers and then leased to participating countries and other exhibitors, before being put into alternative use after the event.

Generally Special Class fairs are held in between the big Universal Class Expos, which run for around six months and are much, much larger affairs. Here most pavilions are built by participating counties or sponsors, and often ripped down at the end. The last such Expo took place in Aichi, Japan, in 2005 and the next is scheduled for Shanghai in 2010. This will be the biggest Expo of all time, where organisers are aiming for an attendance of around 70 million – in just one year!

All this is in marked contrast to Zaragoza, where this Expo seemed poorly promoted, and on my visit in August attendance was failing to meet projections. It was almost as though the event has been staged as an excuse to build the new high-speed rail line between Madrid and Barcelona and give this city in the middle of the Spanish desert a spurt of growth.


There was not a lot of ride or show innovation at Expo Zaragoza, or unique or interesting exhibit concepts. Just to illustrate this, consider that the one of the hardest exhibits to get into was the Kuwait exhibit, which featured nothing more than a simple, but well done, 4D attraction. Sitting just 25 people at a time, there were waits outside of three hours or more.

Water, Water Everywhere

Other things of interest included a themed pavilion demonstrating challenges with water. Here in a large auditorium-sized motion simulator guests where exposed to the tragic force of tsunamis and other water-based disasters. Given a raincoat on entry, audience members were absolutely soaked during the experience. It felt pretty real except you couldn’t pay too much attention to the video due to all the water in your eyes!

But surely the most innovative thing at the Expo was a spectacular evening show called El Hombre Vertiente (Man Window). Staged in an aerial theatre, with lots of water and special effects, the show was never the same twice. Again the theme was man’s relationship with water and this amazing spectacle was very daring in its staging. So daring, in fact, that one of the key characters died in an accident in the early days of the Expo. But, as they say, “the show must go on” and after a brief halt in production it resumed with four daily performances. I would love to see this spectacular show picked up by a theme park, where it could continue for many years to come.


A second evening spectacular, performed just once per night, was “The Iceberg Show”. This show also referred to as “Poetry in Motion” featured a huge artificial Iceberg that opens up to reveal a great spectacle. The show provides a warning to mankind, emphasising the need for change in the way we interact with the environment.

Free Merchandise

A parade was also staged each afternoon featuring Cirque de Soleil and a storyline based around a dragon and its mystical powers. The dragon itself was an interesting looking piece, but overall the parade was quite relatively sedate Cirque de Soleil standards.

Outside of the shows and pavilions were a number of high quality eateries including restaurants in all price ranges. I’ve also never seen an Expo with so many souvenirs being given away for free inside the various pavilions. You needed a small duffle bag to haul all the free stuff home, and because of this it’s understandable if people didn’t feel much need to buy the official, but non-distinctive, official merchandise. I must mention, however, the official Expo Zaragoza condoms in the shape of Fluvi, the event’s water droplet mascot. What will they think of next?

Unlike many of the World’s Fairs I have been lucky enough to attend, Expo Zaragoza really took its theme and ran with it. It has long been my opinion that the key role events such as this have to play is to generate urban renewal and tourism development. While there was little to see outside the Expo site, it has certainly put Zaragoza on the map.

Most of the buildings about to be vacated (the Expo finished on September 14) will be soon be converted into a business centre and exhibition venue. From a tourist angle, plans have already been announced for an ambitious resort development called Gran Scala, which will include a number of theme parks. From this perspective the Expo should viewed a success.

Dr Samuels provides diverse consulting services in marketing, facility development, customer service, safety, event management, plus promotional activities such as birthday parties.

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