Expo attendance not inflated, official says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am

Shanghai's top Communist Party official has responded for the first time to allegations that visitor numbers at the city's World Expo 2010 are being artificially inflated.

In an interview with the city's official media, Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng insisted the government would not tamper with the figures to boost the mega-fair's attendance.

'No matter what happens, we will not resort to administrative tricks to organise [a larger] audience,' Yu said.

The six-month-long fair - the largest and most expensive expo ever - drew far smaller crowds than expected during May, its opening month.

Crowd numbers began rising steadily in June and the fair is now on course to hit its target attendance of 70 million over its 184-day run.

However, there is a widely held belief among staff at national pavilions that the government has been ferrying large groups of retirees and students into the park to make up numbers - or simply faking official attendance statistics.

Conspiracy theorists were given a boost when the total number of visitors reached 35 million on the morning of August 1 - exactly half the projected attendance the day after the halfway point.

Yu admitted that the first month's poor attendance figures had taken organisers by surprise. 'It would be wrong to say I was not worried,' he said. 'Were people not interested in seeing what was on show?'

However, he rejected suggestions that officials were manipulating attendance figures, saying it would be logistically impractical to mobilise so many people on a day-to-day basis. Yu said the figure of 70 million visitors was just an estimate, and the city was under no obligation to meet the target. '[Even] if the final figure is just 50 million or 60 million, I will still be able to say the expo has been a success,' he said in the hour-long interview, given on Sunday to mark the 100th day of the expo's operations but broadcast last night.

'What we are most concerned about now is a late surge in visitors during September and October,' he said. 'We have sold [and issued] 55 million tickets so far, and we continue to sell tickets every day. Of those sold, there are still some 20 million which haven't been used.' He said problems could be caused if daily attendance was consistently over 500,000.

In the interview, broadcast on Shanghai television last night, Yu also reopened debate on whether any of the national pavilions might be left standing after the expo ends on October 31.

'In principle, they all have to be demolished, as the exhibiting countries are supposed to return their site to its original condition,' Yu said. 'But there is the possibility that a small number of national pavilions will be retained. Whether any national pavilions will be kept, and which ones, is still a matter for discussion.'

Initially, staff at a number of pavilions reported they had been told there would be a competition to enable some of the most popular structures to survive. However, expo officials have repeatedly said only the China pavilion and a handful of core buildings would be saved from the wrecker's ball.