LISBON, Portugal -- A report issued by Portugal's finance ministry
details the shortcomings of Expo '98 held in Lisbon, including a
loss of $530 million; 5 million visitors fewer than the 15 million
predicted by organizers, and the spending of $18 million on cruise
ship rentals that had occupancy rates of 30% during the four-month
An Expo spokesman said the report is "old news," based on
information from an audit that Expo '98 had commissioned foreign
companies to do following the 1998 event.
He acknowledged that in 1993, when Expo was approved, organizers
had first told the government that the fair wouldn't cost taxpayers
anything and then revised the assessment to the tune of $350
million in 1997.
"We had a cost overrun of 26%, and we don't think it's so bad to
have had the government contribute 26% to a $2 billion project that
raised the image of Lisbon permanently," he said.
He said the Expo '98 park, with the largest aquarium in Europe
and the Atlantic Arena for international sports events, attracts 1
million visitors a month.
Frederico Costa, director of the Portuguese National Tourist
Office in New York, noted that the infrastructure improvements made
for Expo, including the renovations of its ancient quarters and the
building of road networks and the Vasco de Gama bridge,
significantly raised the tourism profile of the city.
"We weren't even on the tourism map for foreigners as a major
European capital before Expo, but those days are over," Costa
He pointed out that 12.5 million visitors came to the country in
1998, an increase of 1.5 million from 1997. The boom continued, he
added, with 13 million arrivals in 1999.
"Expo '98 was the first major, modern fair that Portugal
organized, and the financial problems that are being discussed are
no surprise. Now we have experience, so I think similar problems
will be avoided," said Costa.
The finance ministry report comes at a time when Porto,
Portugal, is preparing to don the mantle of cultural capital next
year, a European Union designation, with a slate of activities, and
the entire country will be the backdrop for the European soccer
championships in 2004.