Remembering the Expo ‘98
Last week, twenty years passed over the start of the Expo ’98, the World Fair of 1998 as sanctioned by the International Bureau of Exhibitions. Centred in Lisbon, the event came at a time of high rates of economic growth in the country and came along with a spectre of optimism.
The Fair was the pretext to a massive urban development and modernisation project in Eastern Lisbon, at the “Parque das Nações” area, by the Tagus shore. Its effects are clear up until today, this being one of Lisbon’s real estate most valuable areas. The “Oceanário”, the second largest aquarium in Europe, and the Altice Arena (which hosted the recent Eurovision festival) were built in “Parque das Nações” and were inaugurated for the fair. A few weeks before had been opened the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which crosses the river just in front of Parque das Nações.
Prelude to the future?
Some commentators say that the fair was a monument to the Portuguese capacity of setting up a main international event and a way to show the world that we “up there” with the developed nations (this happened just 12 years after Portugal accession to the EU). The critics, however, say that the total amount of spent money is unclear, until today, and that the numbers of foreign visitors were way below the initial expectations.
Aside from all this, the Expo ’98 appears today, effectively, as a kind of a prelude of Portugal as a centre of international tourism. Algarve was already a tourist powerhouse, and there was a strong tradition of receiving foreign visitors in Lisbon and some other cities and towns, but the Expo’ 98 gave the Portuguese the clear feeling that “we are good at this”.
In a way, the Expo ’98 gave a big political “boost” for the Portuguese bid to the organisation of the Euro 2004 football championship, which was launched that same and confirmed in 1999. Both the World Fair and the Eurocup were rated very high about the quality and efficiency of each event, and the Eurocup definitively helped to build the image of Portugal as a great tourist host. Both events showed that the country was ready – and happy – to receive large numbers of tourists.
So, this phenomenon of tourist popularity in the current decade it’s not a total surprise.