In a press release dated 21 October, Sri Lanka Tourism claimed that, over the past 20 days since the commencement of Expo 2020, the Sri Lankan pavilion has successfully attracted over 10,000 visitors and received positive endorsements from such visitors.
In the press release, Sri Lanka Tourism admitted that certain aspects of the award-winning design of the University of Moratuwa (UoM) team were changed. They claimed that such amendments were made to keep up with climatic and health and safety conditions of the Expo 2020 location.
Sri Lanka Tourism further provided that such amendments have “not resulted in any additional cost to Sri Lanka. The entire pavilion construction was facilitated at zero cost to Sri Lanka, courtesy of Expo 2020 Dubai”.
Via this statement, Sri Lanka Tourism appears to reject the allegation made by UoM team member Dulaj Shirantha Perera on social media – and published by The Morning Business previously – that Sri Lanka might have paid for the designs that are not part of the team’s initial winning design.
Moreover, Sri Lanka Tourism claimed that the design concept of the Sri Lankan pavilion was formulated while the Export Development Board (EDB) was taking the lead in Sri Lanka’s preparation for Expo 2020, and that the EDB had budgeted and planned for an expenditure of around Rs. 580 million for the six-month duration of Expo 2020.
However, financial constraints imposed by the pandemic and other economic factors resulted in the EDB not being able to generate the funds required. Consequently, Sri Lanka Tourism had been called in December 2020 “to shoulder the financial responsibility and also to take leadership, with Sri Lanka Tourism agreeing to spend Rs. 155.5 million, a fraction of the initial budget, for the entire six months, to manage the event in Dubai”.
According to Sri Lanka Tourism, the final design of the Sri Lankan pavilion, while retaining the essential features of the UoM design, successfully showcases the hydraulic civilisation of Sri Lanka by taking the visitors through a visual journey of the history, culture, nature, people, and the many facets of the country by using silent display screens.
Sri Lanka Tourism further stated: “The interactive craft corner, which had a cane weaver demonstrating, drew many, and is run on a rotation basis with an array of activities from batik, Sri Lankan puppetry, clay pottery, wood carving, Sri Lankan sculpting craft, patterns of beeralu, brass plate designs, mask carving, rush and reed craft, flax designs, and other Sri Lankan art showcasing Sri Lankan art and crafts to the world.”
In addition, there is also a retail corner hosted by EDB providing the opportunity for Sri Lankan export businesses to exhibit their products.
“Complimenting these pavilion activities there will be the outside pavilion activities of a Wedding Show, Batik Fashion Show, ‘Song, Dance, Drama, and Drums of Sri Lanka’, Book Reading ‘Under the Stars’ featuring Sybil Wettasinghe’s Sun, Rain, and Fox Wedding, Sri Lanka Cultural Musical and Dance Show, Fusion Dance Show, and Yohani Live In Concert,” added Sri Lanka Tourism.
In terms of visitor figures, Oman was boasting around 180,000 visitors over the same period, the Saudi Arabian pavilion received over 230,000 visitors, Sri Lanka’s South Asian neighbour Pakistan has, over the same period, received over 55,000 visitors, the Italian pavilion over 150,000 visitors, and the French Pavilion over 70,000 visitors within the first 10 days.
Many claimed on social media that Sri Lanka’s state of affairs at the Expo 2020 is disappointing when one considers the plethora of natural wonders Sri Lanka is blessed with, which, if properly promoted, would give Sri Lanka an inherent advantage over most other countries.
However, it should be admitted that Sri Lanka is not the only South Asian country that is struggling at Expo 2020. The Bangladeshi pavilion has been described by local media as “largely deserted” and an “embarrassment”.