On April 25, the Taipei International Flora Expo ended after a run of 171 days. The expo cost as much as NT$9.5 billion (US$330 million) according to the data released by its organizers. Some Taipei councilors have said that, including private sponsorship, the expo actually cost NT$14.5 billion.
The expo has been scrutinized by many parties since it opened in November last year, not long before the five special municipality elections. Although the attacks and the pressure ebbed after Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) re-election, political parties should handle such a major city policy according to their political needs. The expo has ended and the “economic benefits” proclaimed by the Taipei City Government should be clearly discernible, so now is the best time to judge the event for what it really was.
What was the rationale behind holding the expo?
The introduction still posted on the expo’s official Web site says: “[The expo] is expected to attract approximately 8 million domestic and international tourists and have an economic impact of as much as NT$16.8 billion. It will not only help the development of Taipei City’s domestic tourism industry and spur growth in Taiwan’s national flower industry, it will also encourage international exchange and improve Taiwan’s international image.”
How many of these goals were actually met?
According to data released by the Taipei City Government, 8.9 million people visited the expo, exceeding the original goal. However, a closer examination shows that almost all of the visitors were Taiwanese, as foreign visitors only accounted for slightly more than 6 percent of the attendees. In addition, “foreign” mostly means “Chinese.”
A look at the numbers released by city councilors shows that after deducting Chinese tourists, there were only 280,000 visitors from other countries, accounting for just 3 percent of visitors. Last year, the city government allocated a budget of NT$29 million to promote the expo overseas, NT$25 million of which was spent in China, so the government’s aim to attract a truly international crowd is suspect.
As far as domestic visitors go, Taipei residents accounted for almost 26 percent of all visitors, meaning that one out of every four visitors was a local. Visitors from northern Taiwan, excluding Taipei, accounted for 47 percent of the total. Attendees from central Taiwan accounted for 10 percent, while visitors from southern Taiwan only accounted for 8 percent. These numbers call into question whether the expo even succeeded in being a national event.
The government spent money from all of the nation’s taxpayers to put on the expo, but in the end, three-quarters of the visitors came from northern Taiwan. A look at the funding used to hold the expo reveals that NT$3.5 billion was from Council of Agriculture subsidies, or almost 40 percent of the officially announced cost.
Since the government used money earmarked to assist disadvantaged industries to organize the expo for the people of Taipei, surely the event directly benefited the nation’s flower industry. However, an examination of the items on the council’s budget shows that these subsidies were mostly spent on the exhibition halls, as well as infrastructure and transportation facilities for tourists.
How much money was spent on buying flowers, and from which cities and counties were they purchased?