CANADA HOSTS THE WORLD : Expo 86 Sales Soaring in British Columbia as Travelers, Cruise Lines Look Northward

Times Staff Writer

The timing couldn't be better for Canada's Expo 86 if they had used a crystal ball way back in the early planning stages.

Vancouver's World Exposition will throw open its doors on May 2, and judging by advance ticket sales the public is ready for this one. As of mid-March, more than 12 million tickets had already been bought and paid for; Canada's goal is to sell 13.58 million tickets to Expo.

Not that anyone could have predicted the turnabout on the travel scene that is working in Expo's favor, but Vancouver certainly stands ready to take full advantage of it.

The numbers of group and individual tickets already sold, and the hotel rooms already booked, show that plenty of American travelers are looking north to Canada this summer instead of overseas.

Airlines and travel agents report a sharp reduction in the number of Americans planning trips to Europe this year, due at least in part to bombings and other violence at several airport terminals.

And the cruise ships are staying away from the Mediterranean in droves this summer because of the incidents of terrorism that have plagued that area. Many of them have decided to head for the coastline of Western Canada and Southeast Alaska instead, and they'll be stopping in at Expo with shiploads of passengers to add to the daily attendance.

Officially, Canada expects 15 million visits to Expo (one visit equals one person at Expo for one day). They expect 60% to be Canadians, 30% from the United States and the rest from other countries.

More than 90 nations, provinces, territories, states (California, Oregon and Washington) and corporations will participate in Expo, May 2 to Oct. 13. The theme is "Man in Motion," with exhibits on transportation and communications.

Expo 86 will mark the first time that the United States, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China will participate at an international exposition together at a North American site. Other countries participating include Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Japan, nine Caribbean islands, Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, Mexico, Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Brunei, Cuba, Switzerland, Germany and many more. Seven island nations will participate in a South Pacific pavilion.

Tall ships will set sail with fishing boats and ferryboats, tugs and barges, canoes, kayaks and research vessels in "Ships of the World," July 25-28, a continuous parade along False Creek at the edge of Expo. Some will visit for a few days, including Jacques Cousteau's wind-driven, turbine-powered Alcyone. Others will stay on at Expo, including a junk from China and a dhow from Pakistan.

The province of British Columbia came up with the idea of Expo 86 in 1978 as a way to mark Vancouver's centennial as well as the 100th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad's arrival at Canada's West Coast terminus.

Expo's main site is 130 acres along the waterfront of False Creek in the heart of Vancouver. The Canadian host pavilion is Canada Place, a little more than a mile away on the harbor front alongside the city's new cruise ship facility.

A new rapid-transit system links the two sites. It's called Sky Train although it's part subway and part elevated. Expo is financed by direct revenue and a special lottery. If all goes as planned, Canada will spend $350 million more on Expo than it will take in, but the reward is expected to be a plus of $3.5 billion for the economy as a whole.

Special events will include regattas, air shows, military tattoos, parades and a solar sail space mission.

The American and Soviet pavilions will exhibit space exploration technology. The Chinese plan to show "travel in time," with exquisite objects from the distant past and historic engineering feats to modern communication systems.

"Ramses II and His Times" is a pavilion devoted to the artistic and architectural treasures of ancient Egypt.

The Japanese will demonstrate their magnetic levitation train that literally flies along a centimeter above its tracks to reach speeds of 280 m.p.h.

In addition to the 80 pavilions, other attractions include a monorail over the Expo site, a sky ride in a gondola, 70 eating places from fast-food outlets to international gourmet restaurants. More than forty participants have already moved into their pavilions and within the next few weeks 800 container loads of exhibits will arrive on the site.

An Expo ticket includes admission to the 80 pavilions, plazas and theaters on site, rides on the monorail, two sky rides and an intra-site ferry system.

Three-day tickets to Expo are specially priced until May 1 at $29.95 for adults and $14.95 for children 6-12 and seniors 65 and older. Children 5 and younger are free. Season passes for the entire run of Expo cost $99 and $49.50. Prices go up to $34.95 and $17.50 for the three-day tickets on the day Expo opens (and up to $120 and $60 for season passes). Tickets can be ordered through travel agents or by writing to Expo 86, P.O. Box 1800, Station A, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6C 3A2. Tickets are also available through Ticketron.

Expo's official accommodation agency, ResWest, will make reservations for a $5 fee. Travel agents are also offering tours to Canada featuring Expo and other British Columbia attractions.

Expo will be open every day, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and "Expo After Hours" is a special night-life program that continues into the wee hours.

Docking at Vancouver's new $17-million terminal this season will be a fleet of 17 cruise ships, making a record 205 sailings into the city. Overall, the waterfront development has cost $215 million, including the hotel and trade and convention center as well as cruise ship facility.

The complex, Canada Place, is anchored by the luxury Pan Pacific Vancouver and World Trade Center office complex. Under five soaring sails is Canada's Expo Pavilion, which will later become the convention center.

While Expo is in progress, more than 14,000 performances are on the agenda, ranging from an Australian aboriginal dance to an Inuit heavy metal band. Performers are from 40-plus countries. Expo's budget for cultural and entertainment alone totals $60 million.

Entertainment Galore

There are seven major Expo theaters, three cabarets and two bandstands, all of which will feature a steady stream of pop, jazz, blues and rock music, dance, comedy and revues. Elsewhere throughout the area will be strolling clowns, jugglers and mimes, parades, robots and a variety of street entertainers.

Also on tap this summer in Vancouver is the star-studded Royal Bank Expo 86 World Festival, with 250 performances by the great classic companies, involving theater, dance, art and sculpture, films, chamber music, orchestra and opera. These events will be staged at the 2,800-seat Queen Elizabeth Theater, the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse, a 650-seat proscenium theater; the Orpheum, a 2,800-seat concert hall; the B.C. Place Stadium, a 60,000-seat covered amphitheater, and several smaller theaters seating under 500.

British Columbia tourist officials said that 1985 brought 12.6 million visitors to the province, a 3.3% increase over 1984. With Expo 86, they expect the total to reach 15 million visitors.

All during Expo you can call one place for reservations throughout British Columbia. That's ResWest, the official reservation service for Expo 86.

The computerized service costs $5 to book all of your accommodations--hotels, motels, B&B; homes, resorts. Car rentals too. Even motor homes and houseboats.

Phone ResWest at (604) 662-3300 or write to ResWest, P.O. Box 1138, Station A, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6C 2T1.

The new Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, right at Canada Place, is open for business with 505 rooms starting at $107 for a double. To stay in the heart of the action, as well as the lap of luxury, this is the place. But it's already fully booked from April to October, although you might get lucky if there's a last-minute cancellation just before you arrive.

Other Top Hotels

Other favorite top-of-the-line hotels are Four Seasons in the heart of Vancouver, $122 and up (sold out for Expo); Hyatt Regency, $97 and up; Westin Bayshore with its panoramic views, $100 and up; the Mandarin, a favorite with business travelers, $104 and up (sold out for Expo); the European-style Wedgewood, $79 and up, and Chateau Granville, near the Expo Center, $65 and up.

ResWest will know which hotels have vacancies and will make your reservations, deluxe, medium-price or economy, adding the $5 fee to your bill. The fee's the same whether you stay put for your entire trip or travel around the province with reservations at several places.

Visitors who want to go the B&B; route may call Canadian Bed and Breakfast Accommodations Inc. The toll-free number from the United States is (800) 663-0561.

Campers and recreational vehicle vacationers will find a campground during Expo right across the U.S.-Canada border at White Rock. Border Campland RV Park, phone (604) 531-8811, will be open throughout Expo, and has 325 sites that cost $22.50 a night. Or Expo visitors can pay $160 for four nights at the park and tickets for two to Expo.

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