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Expo 86 World's Fair Has the Look of Success

May 04, 1986|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Run, don't walk to Expo 86. Vancouver's world's fair is on and running. And in a summer travel season already hurt by the effects of international terrorism, Expo has emerged as one of the world's booming tourist locations, and may well become the tourism event of 1986.

The theme for Expo 86 is "World in Motion--World in Touch," a tribute to advances and achievements in transportation and communications.

"It seems ironic," said an Expo official, "because if people are communicating anything this summer, it's that they don't want to travel."

Except, of course, to Vancouver and the exposition.

Excitement Building

"We're all excited about Expo," said Gary Jack, a jovial, heavy-set Vancouver taxi driver. "It's going to bring a lot of people and money into Canada."

It's not just the fear of terrorism that has contributed to Expo's early popularity. Not everyone is going to Expo by default. Falling gas prices, coupled with a favorable exchange rate (the Canadian dollar is worth only 71 cents U.S.) also have helped Expo officials sell more than 13 million visits before the opening.

"We now predict more than 17 million visits to the site before the exposition officially closes Oct. 13," said Gail Flitton, Expo's director of media relations. "And that number is rising."

Unlike some other world's fairs, this one looks financially solid. The province of British Columbia has invested $578 million Canadian dollars in Expo, and the Canadian federal government has kicked in $180 million more.

To be sure, Expo officials needed few reminders of the dismal results of past world's fairs. In fact, Expo organizers announced at the outset that the Vancouver fair would lose money, with a projected deficit of $228 million.

After all, the 1984 New Orleans fair planned on 12 million visitors, only got 7.4 million and left $35 million in unpaid bills. The 1982 Knoxville bash earned an embarrassing profit: just $57.

The Pavilions

This year's Expo promises anything but disaster. There are 34 corporate sponsors, including General Motors and Coca-Cola. Fifty-four countries, from Cuba to the Republic of Nauru, will be represented. That's more than twice the number that participated at Knoxville and New Orleans. It will also be the first time in North America that the United States, China and the Soviet Union have exhibited together on one site.

In terms of its scope and its variety, Expo is nothing less than staggering. Spread out over 173 acres, the site is in the heart of Vancouver.

And the exhibits are a wonderfully bizarre combination of high-tech wonder and whimsy. They range from a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft to a Malaysian canoe, a Chinese junk, a Japanese bullet train and something called the Aerocar, a soaring automobile that converts to an airplane in three minutes.

The whimsy department includes the world's largest hockey stick, the largest puck, a giant yellow watch and the first McBarge, McDonald's floating fast-food restaurant.

There's even a demented tribute to transportation, an outdoor sculptural representation called "international traffic jam" featuring dozens of vehicles (including everything from a rickshaw to an 18-wheeler) wrapped around a pole.

Visitors will be entertained by the more than 43,000 scheduled performances. Many of them are free, but the Expo theater also has booked stars ranging from Bill Cosby (Friday and Saturday) and Joan Rivers (July 19) to Liberace (June 2-7), the Nylons (July 16-18) and Victor Borge (Aug. 14), with ticket prices ranging from $6 to $35.

"Our bookings are absolutely crazy," said Murray Byrnes, spokesman for Canadian Pacific Air, Expo's official airline. The airline has increased its schedule to six flights a day between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Vancouver. And, three times a week, to handle the larger loads, a DC-10 has replaced the airline's 737 that normally flies between LAX and Vancouver. Don't count on getting cheap fares, although there are still some midweek bargains left.

Even the Vancouver cabbies are ready. In anticipation of Expo, Yellow Cab and Black Top Cab pooled their resources and invested $2.6 million (Canadian) to computerize their taxis.

Each car owned by Yellow Cab carries a computer display screen that instantly alerts the driver when a client needs to be picked up. Because of the speed of the system, the companies promise that a cab will be sent to your destination within 50 seconds of your call.

Getting Tickets

All the advance logistics and organization for Expo haven't come without Vancouver's share of problems. Not surprisingly, advance popularity has attracted a small horde of ticket scalpers eager to make a small killing. Effective immediately, you can only officially buy four tickets at a time, and Expo has installed a toll-free telephone number for U.S. visitors to order tickets: (800) 663-0223.

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