Expo 2000 off to a slow start

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NEW YORK -- Germany's Expo 2000 World's Fair in Hannover is getting off to a sluggish start, and so are ticket sales in the U.S.

Despite an earlier report of a good opening day, admissions during the fair's first several days were averaging well under 100,000 people per day -- less than half the number needed to achieve its goal of 40 million during the course of the event.

The Expo 2000 Hannover will run through October and showcases pavilions and exhibits from nearly 190 countries and organizations.

At General Tours, the general sales agent in the U.S. for Expo, ticket sales through June 9 numbered 4,000, according to Steve Puettner, marketing director.

He said he believes it is "possible" that Expo organizers will achieve their goal of attracting several hundred thousand Americans, "but I do feel that a lot of people will just buy their tickets at the gate."

"We'd prefer if they bought them directly through us," he said, "but it's the type of event where lots of people will decide at the last minute. If they're in that area, they may decide, 'We've got an extra day, why don't we go to the world's fair?' "

He said General Tours has not had any requests from other tour operators for blocks of tickets. "We've had some individual travel agents contacting us if they have a group but nothing on a grand scale."

However, Puettner noted that publicity about the Expo's opening has started to stir some interest in the market.

"Now that the Expo has opened, we're starting to see some demand," he said. "Our requests for brochures and information have gone up dramatically since it opened."

He noted that General Tours has several itineraries this summer that include visits to both the Expo and the Oberammergau Passion Play, and those have been selling well.

In Germany, Expo managers remain fairly confident despite the slow start, and they have resisted suggestions to reduce ticket prices, which top out at around $42 for a full-day adult admission.

"Please bear in mind that we don't expect bumper figures in June," said a spokesman for the Expo. "Seville [the setting of the 1992 world's fair] only received 4.5% of all its visitors in the first month, and we don't expect much more. So in many ways, these figures are what we expected."

Tickets to the Expo are available in the U.S. from General Tours and DER Travel.

Both firms also can assist agents with other travel arrangements related to the Expo.

General Tours has a toll-free number for Expo inquiries at (800) 469-5186. DER is at (888) 337-7350.

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