Downturn, what downturn? Fair shows lap of luxury

Sat Nov 1, 2008 10:31am EDT
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By Marty Swant

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - As they follow the red carpet into Expo Grand Luxe and an evening's shopping for flights into space or handmade sports cars, visitors do not have global recession uppermost in their minds.

Staged in a vast exhibition hall on the outskirts of Brussels city center, the three-day event ending Sunday is an unashamed showcase of luxurious living for the super-rich.

And while some may question such extravagance as the world eyes what could be the worst economic slowdown for decades, those at the fair seemed unconcerned.

"There will always be people who can afford cutting-edge technology," said U.S. businessman Howard Blank, who purchased one of the first tickets for a commercial flight in space.

"I'm terribly excited. I only wish it was sooner rather than later," said Blank, chief of a Belgium-based consultancy and one of the first buyers of Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceflights.

The price of a flight into zero-gravity is $200,000 and trips are due to begin in a couple of years. Already some 280 people from 35 countries have reserved places.

Others at Expo Grand Luxe preferred the high-performance Spyker car, designed by Maarten de Bruijn from the Netherlands.

Completely handmade, the Spyker weighs less than 1,000 kg and has a top speed easily surpassing 300 kilometers per hour (190 mph). Event organizer Filip De Brouwere called it a "motorcycle on wheels."   Continued...

<p>A 475,000 euros gold watch is displayed before the opening of the Grand Luxe exhibition in Brussels, October 30, 2008. The exhibition gathers high luxury items including cars and jewellery and focuses on gastronomy, art and fashion. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir</p>