Was the Yeosu Expo Debacle Necessary?

      May 30, 2012 13:47

      A record 110,000 visitors flocked to the 2012 Yeosu Expo on Sunday, but visitors had to wait just an hour to see the aquarium, which is the most-popular attraction there. On Monday however, Budda's Birthday, only 40,000 visitors came to the expo but had to wait up to seven hours to see the aquarium in queues stretching for 3 km. The long line resulted from organizers switching from a reservation system to a first-come, first-served one for the eight major attractions.

      A first-come, first-served system is useful when the number of visitors stands at a manageable level, and reservations come in handy when there are too many people coming to see an event. That was the case at the Yeosu Expo, where the eight major exhibition halls sold tickets based on a reservation system for 30 percent of tickets and the rest at booths on-site or through smartphones.

      But organizers abandoned the reservation system after strong protests by some visitors. Around 200 visitors stormed into the organizing committee's office when tickets ran out just after the expo grounds opened on Sunday morning, with some shouting insults at organizers and grabbing them by their necks. They demanded a refund, transportation expenses and even damages. "We thought we would end up in a lot of trouble if we continued to stick to the reservation system," said one staffer.

      The Yeosu Expo opted to sell tickets by reservation because it banked on Korea's advanced IT infrastructure, where there are 25 million smartphone users. But a lack of awareness and the brute force of some visitors who demanded them on the spot scuppered that effort. As a result, both visitors who reserved tickets and those who bought them at the site ended up having to wait in long lines. A reservation system gives organizers time to prepare and maintain a balance between the number of visitors and the maximum handling capacity of facilities. This is why customers who make reservations in advance get discounts, while those who make purchases without notice end up paying the full price, be it for plane tickets or for hotel rooms.

      It is not uncommon at airports abroad for passengers to complain angrily about flight delays. This usually happens when carrier fails to explain the reason for the delays. But if the delays are caused by freak weather or terror threats, passengers wait patiently. Customers in advanced countries generally know when to complain and when to accept the situation. But Korea is not yet an advanced country.

      The Korea National Arboretum in Gwangneung north of Seoul admits only 5,000 visitors a day based on a reservation system. And that system has proven to be a success. There is no reason why the Yeosu Expo cannot benefit from a reservation-based system as well if it explains things properly and people behave themselves.

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