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Expo.02 fails to woo the tourists

The national exhibition, Expo.02, is all about showing off the best of Switzerland but so far few foreign tourists have visited the show.

This content was published on July 16, 2002 - 11:35

In the two months since Expo.02 opened its doors, over three million visitors have made a trip to the national exhibition and organisers are confident they will reach their target of ten million by the time the exhibition closes on October 20.

However, the number of foreign visitors has failed to impress with overseas tourists accounting for just six per cent of overall ticket sales at the four sites in Biel, Murten, Neuchâtel and Yverdon.

But Expo.02's artistic director, Martin Heller, remains upbeat. "Part of our business plan is to attract around one million visitors from abroad, but half of these are already in Switzerland.

"Expo.02 is a very unique offer for tourists already staying in Switzerland and the real strength of the exhibition lies in concentrating on the public here in Switzerland," Heller told swissinfo.

No clichés

Heller's argument is not entirely convincing since the organisers have been at pains to portray Switzerland as a modern, forward-looking country by ridding Expo.02 of the typical Swiss clichés.

"Be warned, there are no cows, no chocolate, and no watches," Britain's Financial Times newspaper wrote in a recent article about the exhibition.

"It's really well done," said Konrad Mrusek of Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "It gives the outside world a different picture of Switzerland - it's not patriotic and there are no clichés, it's very sophisticated."

Indeed, even the unmistakable white cross of the Swiss flag has been denied a place at the show, sparking complaints from several quarters, who ask how a national exhibition can call itself that without any flags.

Inaccessible and unintelligible?

The absence of anything familiarly Swiss has provoked some criticism that the exhibits are inaccessible and unintelligible to the average visitor.

Critics, including the head of one of the country's biggest political parties, say many of the 38 exhibits are too esoteric and sometimes verge on the incomprehensible.

With installation such as a giant robot, which shreds money, and a variety of videos and strange sound installations, Expo.02 is certainly not what visitors might expect from a "typically Swiss exhibition".

Martin Heller rejects such criticisms, as well as others accusing him of artistic elitism.

"I think part of an artistic attitude is that you don't have to explain what an exhibit is all about. One of the attractive points of Expo.02 is that it enables you to interpret the exhibits in your own way, which makes it more accessible in the end," he told swissinfo.

"If you explain everything exactly it can be boring, but of course there will always be people who complain, which I sometimes interpret as fear," Heller added.

by Vanessa Mock and Billi Bierling

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