Staff at popular pavilions shrug off long line-ups while 7 others have yet to open

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 May, 2010, 12:00am

Despite huge queues causing backlogs of more than four hours at the most popular national pavilions, staff at the top attractions insist they are well prepared to handle the crowds.

But some said they were negotiating with expo organisers on how to provide more protection against the elements.

Franck Serrano, director of the France pavilion, said although they received an unexpected 100,000 visitors on Saturday, the expo's first day, the pavilion had 'no problem' coping with the crush.

'The queue keeps moving, so people actually spent less time waiting than they had expected.'

But he admitted that visitors had to wait two to three hours to get inside. 'It is very routine that visitors at the expo have to queue for a long time for the popular pavilions,' he said. 'People are willing to queue.'

France is one of a clutch of striking pavilions - along with those of Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United States - that are the real honeypots for expo visitors, attracting swarms of people.

But the lengthy waiting times and intense heat yesterday caused some visitors to question the lack of cover.

'They must have spent a fortune on that [Denmark] pavilion, why didn't they think to include some shelter for people in the queue?' Wu Minmin said. 'We have been in this line for over an hour, and the sun is really fierce. It's bad enough now, but just imagine when there's a summer downpour. Even a simple canopy would be an improvement.'

Some of the most exceptional queues were outside the porcupine-shaped Britain pavilion. The three-deep queue stretched around the corner and down to the end of the block before doubling back on itself into a small park.

'Waiting times for our pavilion averaged over three hours [yesterday],' Carma Elliot, the British consul-general in Shanghai, said. 'We knew well in advance that we would be getting crowds of that sort of size and we've been keeping people informed about how long they can expect to wait.

'But supervision of the queues outside our pavilion is handled by the expo authorities, so we have been discussing with them ways to make the experience more bearable.'

The building's designer, architect Thomas Heatherwick, who was visiting the pavilion yesterday, said he was delighted with the response.

'It's great that people have grabbed hold of the idea and run with it,' he said. 'We weren't sure if they would.'

While some pavilions were packed with visitors, a handful of countries were still scrambling to open their exhibits.

Expo director Hong Hao said last night there were still seven incomplete national pavilions, but he declined to name them.

A review of the expo site by South China Morning Post reporters over the past two days found the incomplete pavilions are those of four eastern European nations, two from Africa and one from South America.

The gates to South Africa's pavilion were hidden behind red-and-white plastic tape, while the displays inside appeared almost complete.

'We received instructions [yesterday] that we are not to speak to the press,' a security guard said. 'The building will be open on May 6.'

Next door, the Egypt pavilion's doors remained closed.

The situation was similar at the Venezuela pavilion.

In the European zone, work looked to have been abandoned on the Latvia pavilion, while Albania's was locked shut.