IT is almost impossible to make it through a full day in South Korea without being assaulted by the sight of Kumdori - the yellow, baby-elf mascot for Expo '93. Kumdori appears on huge billboards, table napkins, chocolates, towels and car bumpers. During the exposition itself, Kumdori - with the help of a microprocessor that will allow it to react to external stimuli - will come to life as a 90 centimetre robot. With a massive publicity campaign in full-swing, there are few Koreans who are unaware of the three-month extravaganza which Kumdori is helping promote. Organisers are hoping about 10 million Koreans will visit Expo, which has the theme ''The Challenge of a New Road to Development''. Outside Korea, awareness of the US$1.2 billion event is far less than organisers had hoped. They say they expect about 500,000 foreign visitors - a third from Japan, traditionally Korea's strongest inbound market. Hoteliers and diplomats agree that the target for foreign visitors could fall far short of the goal. Taiwan, which last year accounted for almost 10 per cent of visitors to Korea, will generate few visitors since Seoul severed diplomatic relations with the island when it switched recognition to Beijing. Arrivals from Japan are down an alarming 13 per cent for the first quarter of this year. ''It's not going to be the big tourism bonanza everyone thought,'' says the economics editor of a local business magazine. Westin Hotels and Resorts managing director for Korea Robert Fitzner says: ''We've not seen any booking trends that suggest large numbers of people are coming.'' As part of the campaign to lure foreign tourists, overseas Koreans in Canada and the United States have been coaxed into publicising the event. Korean National Tourism Corp's manager for Europe and the Americas, Park Eun-suh, conceded that Expo promotional activities started too late and blamed the situation on the late release of ticket prices only two months ago. ''There has been a lack of information on Expo itself. We can't do much about that,'' Mr Park says. Hyatt's director of marketing for Korea, Christopher Park, says that during a recent overseas tourism promotion mission to North America, it was evident that few tour operators had even heard of this year's Expo. ''If this is the case with the tour operators I doubt the big numbers will come,'' he says. However, the show must go on and, in typical Korean fashion, men are working round-the-clock to complete the 90-hectare site in time for the August 7 opening. Officials say the 93-day event will cost Korea about $1.2 billion - about 10 per cent of the total cost of the Seville Expo - although some observers say the final bill will be far higher. Canada's commissioner-general for Expo, Camille Guibault, says that with more than 100 countries and 20 international organisations participating, Korea is likely to meet its attendance targets during the three-month extravaganza. ''Numbers are always a concern at these international events,'' Ms Guibault says. To create a performance site for Expo, the Taejon International Exposition Organising Committee reportedly spent $16 million for a 190 metre wide artificial lake. A solar energy turtle ship designed by the Korea Institute of Machinery and costing $625 million will take visitors around the lake. Visitors can also inspect a hovercraft. Most exhibits will focus on the sub-theme of applications of modern science and technology for developing countries, and environmental protection. The extensive cultural events calendar includes attractions ranging from a Korean fresh water fish exhibition and international puppet festival to a tactile sculpture exhibition and Miss World University contest. Most major chaebols and the local subsidiary of IBM are putting up their own, permanent pavilions. Hyundai Precision and Industry has one of the most ambitious plans - it will operate its new magnetic levitation train at the site. A Canadian team is putting the finishing touches to the $12.8 million Canadian pavilion, which will feature Canada's accomplishments in high-tech sectors. To the disappointment of the Expo organising committee, North Korea will be conspicuously absent this year after Pyongyang's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Earlier, organisers had hoped to include some involvement from the North. ''We keep our doors open to them and we are ready to accommodate them in all forms,'' says the director general for international affairs for Expo '93, Sohn Woo-hyun. Because Korea is financing the construction of pavilions for lesser-developed countries, several former Soviet republics are taking part, including Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kirgisistan and Kazakhstan. There is a Russian plan to launch a rocket carrying a goodwill message from President Boris Yeltsin from Russian soil during Expo and have it land in the sea near Seoul. Whether all the participating industrialised countries really wanted to be at this year's Expo is a different story. Seoul-based diplomats say that because of the worldwide economic recession, having to scrape together budgets for such expensive promotions year after year is putting a strain on some countries. Most participating in this year's Expo are still recovering from Seville and the 1991 Genoa Expo. ''These events are getting very expensive in terms of financing and staffing,'' says Arthur Unthink, deputy commissioner general of the British pavilion. ''We need to get back to having regular spacing between these events.'' Critics claim organisers should never have decided on the industrial town of Taejon, 160 kilometres south of Seoul. It has no airport even though it is described by officials as ''Korea's Silicon Valley''. On the face of it, Korea can be justifiably proud of getting the Europe-based Board of International Expositions to sanction this year's event. Sources say Seoul lobbied hard to get Expo 93; it is only the second Asian country to ever host the event. The Korean Government regards Expo as another step in opening up to the world after the spectacular success of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. ''Until now Expo has been the monopoly of developed countries,'' Mr Sohn says. To smooth the flow of visitors to Taejon during the three months of Expo, the Government has widened the Seoul-Pusan highway from four to eight lanes and is arranging for extra trains to connect both cities to Taejon. Mr Sohn says having Expo in far-away Taejon will promote more balanced regional growth: ''This is good because more than half of the total population of Korea is concentrated in Seoul.'' After the event is over, the site will be converted into a science theme park. ''This will be quite a boost to Taejon,'' Mr Sohn says. ''It's a good investment.'' Official thinking goes far beyond simply transforming Taejon into a hub for science and technology. Mr Sohn says Korean officials expect Expo to do for Korea what Expo '70 did for Osaka. ''Before Osaka, Japanese products in the United States were sold in third-rate department stores. After Expo they were moved to first-rate department stores,'' he says. ''We believe this will enhance the image of Korea as an industrial nation and strengthen the competitiveness of Korean products.'' In a dubious report, the Korean Institute for Economics and Technology estimates that the Expo will generate 217,000 jobs and create $1.6 billion of ''domestic and earned income''.