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Interview: Expo experience to leave lasting legacy on Shanghai

VANCOUVER, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Shanghai's upcoming hosting of the World Expo will be an "unforgettable experience" for local residents, leaving a lasting legacy of international trade that will be of benefit to everyone, according to a former Canadian politician.

Grace McCarthy, the British Columbia tourism minister who was largely responsible for bringing the World Expo to Vancouver in 1986, said the hosting of the fair put the Canadian city on the global map, ultimately leading to its successful hosting of the Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Now 82 and retired from politics, McCarthy, who heads the Vancouver-based Child Foundation charity which helps children with liver and intestinal disorders, said the spinoffs of the Shanghai expo would be vast, ranging from economic development for the city and the country as a whole, to improving the lives of local residents.

"Shanghai undoubtedly has strong local government with committees working night and day to make connections around the world. Those connections will pay off because they wouldn't even show up if they didn't plan to have a plant (they wanted built) or wanted to go and help rebuild that area that the expo site is on. There will be international trade which will be a benefit for everybody," she said.

"The opportunity now for Shanghai is the world gets to know the city, not as a land, but as the land of opportunity. Not as individuals who are hardworking, but individuals who want people to come and stay and live and contribute to the country. That's the essence of a world expo. People will see a very different Shanghai than what they have envisioned. It's a pure learning experience."

With a theme of transport and communication, the Vancouver expo previewed a host of technologies that are now commonplace.

Demonstrations of the internet were on display nearly a decade before it became commonplace, while inventor Arthur C. Clarke presided over a satellite dinner. With diners sitting in Canada, the famed author of 2001: A Space Odyssey chatted with those assembled via satellite from his Sri Lankan base.

There was also a demonstration line of Vancouver's new transportation system with an overhead "Skytrain" moving passengers through the expo site. McCarthy said the Canadian-made system had drawn great interest from Singapore which was looking to improve its own rapid transit at the time. However, they ended up going with Japanese technology.

"It's that kind of interface and that kind of incentive that assist industry both in Canada and British Columbia. From that point of view it was super successful from educating young people about the world they live and making industrial and commercial contacts. At expos you always see futuristic things.

"That's what really makes an expo when you can showcase the world. It's a real learning experience for the country hosting. Children would come to expo and they would learn all about China, what they produced, what their educational system was like. Then they would go to another pavilion and find out more. It was a real learning experience because there was something for everyone at expo."

McCarthy admits Vancouver's expo experience happened almost by accident. To celebrate the city's 100th anniversary in 1986, she got in contact with the Louvre art gallery in Paris to see about the possibility of touring the Mona Lisa across Canada, but little success. A chance meeting in London with Patrick Reid, who had overseen Canada's interest at six world expos, however, sealed the deal. With a reported budget of 800 million to 1 billion Canadian dollars, the fair was a great success in attracting more than 22 million visitors, but ultimately lost just over 300 million Canadian dollars.

Despite the financial loss, McCarthy said the expo was beneficial for the psychology of the country that at the time was emerging from a prolonged recession. In addition, there was a sense of patriotism that swept over Canada.

"It was very beneficial for the psychology of the country and that's difficult to put dollars to. Everything is not all dollars, but everything in dollars is psychological because if you pour money into a party, an event or something, you can be super successful if you do it right. That's what we did.

"For a person who doesn't know Shanghai, this is a great learning experience for them. They'll see the excitement of the opportunities, the young people who have come to life in the city and are doing incredible things, they'll see all of that and their perception will change. That's worth an awful lot in the global picture."

One area that benefited Vancouver tremendously following the fair was tourism. In 2008, tourism employed more than 131,000 people in the western province making it one of its largest sectors along with forestry, fishing and mining. It had 2008 revenues of more than 13.1 billion Canadian dollars, up 35 percent since 2002, according to Tourism BC statistics. "Expo provided us with a showcase to show the world and the world was very interested in seeing it. We had boom years for tourism after that ... afterwards, the people who came in droves and were interested in coming simply because of the media coverage that went all over the world," McCarthy said.

"When the whole thing finished the world did know about us. Someday they would like to come to British Columbia, Canada. That was kind of the mantra. And people did come in droves. Tourism was at its peak during those years."

She adds, however, that the Shanghai organizer needed to recognize that "a country can't live on parties" alone, they also needed to be serious about the business end of it.

"The business end of it is just as much the hospitality plan quotient and the business plan quotient together.

"It is very important that countries envision what they want for the values of their people and what the people themselves want for a very good way of life."



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