Paul Creighton has held management positions at numerous Expos and has gained an in-depth appreciation for what works and what doesn't. His unique perspective and insights are highlighted in the two articles which are posted here:

The Reinvention of World-Class Expositions in the United States
Value Transfer at Public Attractions



by Paul Creighton

 May 2002

World Fairs in the United States, as they have been historically known, have reached a crossroads in terms of definition and purpose. The definition of worlds fair in the late 1800’s up to approximately 1950 was as follows:

A developed country sponsored a gigantic and spectacular event whose main purpose was to provide a platform and showcase for the latest inventions, innovations and technologies of their time. They were basically large international trade shows and because of a great interest in "new advancements," the public was invited to attend. There was a definite purpose and reason for hosting such an event from the standpoint of recognition as a country that was on the "leading edge" of invention, technology and innovation and, in addition there was a definite purpose and reasons for other countries to participate in the "great event." In the early days of fair development, it was the only way for a country to showcase itself, its advancements and its culture to other countries and a very large gathering of interested public.


The key to the early success of the great expositions was exposure. It was the "television screen" of its time. You had to go to the event in order to provide yourself a combination of hearing and seeing all of the magic of the event. There was no alternative to "being there." History has provided us with excellent information on the great expositions of the United States. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St Louis and San Francisco were very successful in terms of new and innovative content, participation, entertainment and popularity. They had no competition and stood alone as the "must see" event of the year. Examples of "must see and experience" were; Chicago hosted the Ferris Wheel; Philadelphia, the great Corliss Steam Engine; St Louis, wireless telegraphy and New York, the first television.


In the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, most world-class expositions in the United States were smaller in size and carried out a specialized theme. Seattle, San Antonio, Spokane, Knoxville and New Orleans hosted world-class events. They were not of the size and magnitude of the earlier extravaganzas. There purpose was to create attention for themselves and "get on the map" as a city that could get it done. They began to justify their existence by serving as time-framed catalysts for urban renewal and development projects with lasting benefits.


The author does not intend to create a lengthy historic review of world fairs in the U.S. All of the information is readily available on web pages, videos and libraries. The purpose of the above is to set the stage and background for the inevitable changes necessary to create world-class expositions, in this country, as popular and viable pathways to accomplish long-term residual benefits of lasting value and create permanent legacies that are in the public interest over time.


Two key words, purpose and motivation, form the basis for consideration when acting as host for a world-class exposition. Without a carefully defined worthy purpose and motivation, the event will never make it off the drawing board and the feasibility studies will go on the shelf with dozens of others who could not pass the test.


The organizers, made up of what is commonly known as the "upper establishment" or "movers and shakers" of the community, must have a purpose that is in the public and community interest. A tremendous amount of local government and community support is necessary and this support is built on a foundation of public good. The private sector will enjoy corresponding benefits as "all ships rise on the same tide." However, government and community will not be motivated unless there is a clear understanding of all the elements, which are in the positive public interest. Previous expositions that have not laid the above type of groundwork have failed both in interest and financially.


The First Change: Previous World Fairs have always attracted other nations as primary participants.


All the elements that make up a world-class event must have their own purpose and motivation for participating. The organizers must create the necessary situations where each invited participant, such as major cities of the world, have a worthwhile and dedicated purpose that is in their own best interest. For example, every major city in the world wants to achieve a higher rate of tourism. Increased tourism is a goal of all major cities. Therefore, one might consider "Cities of the World" as a general theme with various sub-themes relative to cities and their culture, attractions, location, etc. Economic motivation has to be considered. Investment in exhibiting at a world-class exposition is a major outlay. Quite frankly, there should be a financial return on the investment. Increased tourism in a participant’s city, as a result of exhibiting at a world-class event, serves both purpose and motivation. In addition, there are pathways in place to communicate with potential exhibitors through the International Tourist Association and the Sister Cities Programs. Major cities of the world gathered in one location with purpose, motivation and dedication are the primary building block in a successful event. They are the flagships.


The Second Change: Federal, State and Local Government Participation


Various state and local governments have participated in international expositions in their area. Their participation is primarily associated with disseminating information relative to government services.. Since the United States is no longer a member of the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), it remains to be seen how they would participate in future fairs in the United States. One can assume that if the benefits were there and clearly understood, the United States would participate.


There is an important sub-theme opportunity available at world-class expositions. This sub-theme could be built around urban renewal, urban design and development. Since previous fairs in the U.S. have served as catalysts for long-term urban renewal projects, there is a success record in place in this area


The Third Change: Utilizing Themes as a catalyst for Motivation and Purpose.

Themes have always been a major part of a world-class exposition in terms of providing guidelines for participation and an incentive for the public to attend. However, in some cases, themes have been a distraction instead of an incentive. Those themes that are time sensitive or controversial have been rather ineffective in serving their purpose and motivation. In most cases, serious consideration has not been given to utilizing a basic theme as a motivation to participate and attend.


For example, a basic theme can be built around tourism. The author does not believe there has been a general theme, based on tourism, at any world-class exposition. Picture international cities displaying, exhibiting and telling there story to a projected 17 to 25 million visitors. Their motive is to attract tourists to their city and region from a vast gathering of interested attendees. This process allows the participating cities to invest in "telling their story" rather than looking at participation as a cost with little or no return.


Tourism opens up an entirely new field for corporations from the standpoint of participation and sponsorship. Airlines, cruise ships, rental car agencies, the lodging and transportation industry, etc. should all be good candidates. Domestic and international travel potential should create a genuine purpose and motivation. Here again, it should be viewed as a marketing opportunity with a direct "face to face" contact potential.


The Fourth Change: The Effective Use of a Major Sub-Theme

Since the major theme is based on motivating visitors and participants relative to a general theme based on tourism, an opening exists for a major sub-theme. This sub-theme could revolve around the topic of urban renewal, planning, innovation and implementation.


The exposition, since it is international in scope, could host workshops, seminars and speakers on a wide assortment of urban topics. A major college or university could serve as host. A long- range plan could be developed whereby the host university becomes the center and catalyst for carrying out on-going programs on an international level.

A "work in progress" could be demonstrated utilizing the exposition as a catalyst for long term residual use and benefit.


The Fifth Change: More Efficient Planning and Execution,.


"Re-inventing the wheel" is the progression that most world class expositions utilize in planning and managing. Solving problems after the fact become common instead of before the fact. This is primarily due to lack of a central body that has developed a basic and universal format for planning and management. A master plan, with built in flexibility to adapt to the particular location and market aspects, would reduce costs considerably and set the framework for a more organized process.

"Build it, Sell it, Operate it", which translate into Site Development, Market, Operate are the three major planning and implementation phases necessary to carry forth a successful project. The author has developed a basic concept utilizing a task system as the basis for moving the project from origin to completion. The task system contains 168 primary tasks that must be utilized to create efficient and effective procedures leading to successful completion. Each task consists of 4 major components. They are:

Definition of the task.


Capital and Operating costs.


Start and completion schedules.


Staffing requirements



Planning the components of each task leads to the primary basis for constructing the "road map." Defining the task is a clear indication of what needs to be done. Projecting the capital investment and operating costs lead to establishing the budget. Start and complete schedules put the timing in place. Staffing projections determine the number of people needed to complete each task. Add the results of each of the four task components, plus the overall administrative structure, and you have a construction, marketing and operating plan.


Budget planning must include revenue sources and projected amounts. Therefore, it is imperative that a market feasibility study be undertaken to determine projected visitor and participant potential.


The Fifth Change: Make the Value Transfer Concept a part of the Mission Statement.


Construction and Operations have to establish and deliver a participant and visitor value that is greater than the value perceived by the visitor and participant. It is the job of marketing to sell the values and site development and operations must deliver them. When the values delivered exceed the expectation, everyone wins.




The press and others have stated that world class expositions have reached their prime and are no longer necessary. The advent of advanced technology in the field of communication is the primary consideration for reducing or eliminating the need for such spectacles.


However, why do major sporting and entertainment events continue to draw overflow crowds when people, within a ten- minute drive, can sit at home and watch the event on television without incurring any admission cost? Our most advanced electronic communications systems, i.e.: television and computers can only reach two of the five senses. We all have the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell that can be utilized to gather information. Television and computers reach only sight and sound.

Three powerful senses remain unused in most communications. Touch, taste and smell cannot be provided by any other means than "being there." Therefore, world class expositions and other major "people-gathering" events will continue to grow and exist, provided they produce "an experience" in an environment that both participants and visitors accept in a positive and worthwhile manner.



Paul Creighton can be contacted via email at paulcreighton215@comcast.net