Expo (short for "exposition", and also known as World Fair and World's Fair) is the name given to various large public exhibitions held since the mid-19th century. The official sanctioning body is the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), translated in English as the International Exhibitions Bureau (though sometimes rendered as the Bureau of International Expositions). BIE-approved fairs are divided into a number of types: universal, and international or specialized. They usually last between 3 and 6 months. In addition, countries can hold their own 'fair', 'exposition', or 'exhibition', without BIE endorsement.
Today, world expositions are the third largest event in the world in terms of economic and cultural impact, after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. They have been organized for more than one and a half centuries — longer than both the (modern) Olympic Games and the World Cup. The first Expo was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London|Hyde Park, London, in 1851 under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. The “Great Exhibition” as it is often called was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, and was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. As such, it influenced the development of several aspects of society including art and design education, international trade and relations, and even tourism. Also, it was the precedent for the many international exhibitions, later called “World’s Fairs”, which were subsequently held to the present day.
The main attractions at World's Fairs are the national pavilions, created by participating countries. At Expo 2000 Hannover, where countries created their own architecture, the average pavilion investment was around 13 million Euros. Given these costs, EU governments are sometimes skeptical about participation as tangible benefits are often assumed not to outweigh the costs. Effects are often not measured, however. An exception was an independent study for the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2000. This research estimated the pavilion (which cost around € 35 million) generated around € 350 million of potential revenues for the Dutch economy. It also identified several key success factors for world exposition pavilions in general.
A brief history of the World's Fair
The origin of the idea of World's Fair is found in the French tradition of national exhibitions, that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. It was soon followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe, and finally came to London where the first real international exhibition was held.
Since their inception in 1851, the character of world expositions has evolved. Three rough eras can be distinguished: the era of industrialization, the era of cultural exchange, and the era of nation branding.
Era I — 'Industrialization' 1851–1938
The first era could be called the era of 'industrialization' and covered, roughly, the period from 1800 to 1950. In these days, world expositions were especially focused on trade and famous for the display of technological inventions and advancements. World expositions were the platform where the state of the art in science and technology from around the world was brought together. The world expositions of 1851 London, 1889 Paris, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893, 1900 Paris, 1904 St. Louis and 1915 San Francisco exhibitions can be called landmarks in this respect. Inventions such as the telephone were first presented during this era. An important part of the Expo's current image stems from this first era.
Era II — 'Cultural exchange' 1939–1991
The 1939 New York World's Fair and the 1949 Stockholm World's Fair represented a departure from the original focus of the expositions. From then on, Expos became more strongly based on a specific theme of cultural significance, and began to address issues of humankind. They became more future oriented and 'utopian' in scope. Technology and inventions remained important, but no longer as the principal subjects of the Expo. Tomorrow's World (New York, 1939) and Sports (Stockholm, 1949) are examples of these 'new' themes. Cross-cultural dialogue and the exchange of solutions became defining elements of the expos. The dominant Expo of this era arguably remains Montreal's 1967 Expo67. At Expo 2000 in Hannover, a program called 'Projects Around the World' brought together sustainable initiatives and solutions from all over the globe. Expo 2005 of Aichi was probably the most thematic Expo to date
Era III — 'Nation branding' 1992–present
From Expo '92 in Seville onwards, countries started to use the world expo more widely and more strongly as a platform to improve their national images through their pavilions. Finland, Japan, Canada, France and Spain are cases in point. A large study by Tjaco Walvis called "Expo 2000 Hanover in Numbers" showed that improving national image was the primary participation goal for 73% of the countries at Expo 2000. In a world where a strong national image is a key asset, pavilions became advertising campaigns, and the Expo a vehicle for 'nation branding'. Apart from cultural and symbolic reasons, organizing countries (and the cities and regions hosting them) also utilize the world exposition to brand themselves. According to branding expert Wally Olins, Spain used Expo '92 and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona in the same year to underline its new position as a modern and democratic country and present itself as a prominent member of the EU and the global community.
Today's world expositions embody elements of all three eras. They present new inventions, facilitate cultural exchange based on a theme, and are used for city, region and nation branding.
List of World Fairs
|This article is about World's Fair History
Main article and index is at World's Fair
- Tjaco Walvis (2003), "Building Brand Locations", Corporate Reputation Review, Vol.5, No.4, pp.358-366