The millennium bug

The millennium may seem like an excuse for the party to end all parties, but it could also be an excellent opportunity to market a destination or a venue. It is the chance for a new beginning, an opportunity to put right what was wrong, and build on what is right. So, while exhibitions and expositions play an important role in displaying the individuality of countries, if well-planned, they could also provide a legacy in the form of greater confidence, jobs, improved facilities, and new skills and opportunities for thousands of people.

Being on the meridian from which standard times worldwide are calculated, Britain generally and London in particular, has the greatest incentive to respond to the year 2000.

Or does it? New Zealanders are also claiming to be the first into the millennium. According to Denis O’Reilly, director of the New Zealand Millennium Office: “New Zealand is first to the future. We contest the notion that time starts at Greenwich. Britain is the custodian of time, but New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of Britain, so the millennium starts here.”

Last month, the New Zealand Tourism Board committed almost 500,000 to a marketing campaign aimed at the UK, to be launched in the autumn. The emphasis will be on destination marketing, but events happening in the Pacific rim form an integral part of the strategy. They include The Americas Cup, The Millennium and the Sydney Olympics, and are being used to showcase New Zealand worldwide.

The strapline “Discover New Zealand” will be disseminated through trade and consumer shows. Marketing networks will be established, comprising like-minded tourism operators in a number of areas, including conferences.

Unlike Groucho Marx, who said he would not join any club that would accept him as a member, most people will sign up for membership of almost anything. Recognising this, Club Odyssey’s End was established as part of New Zealand’s marketing campaign to attract a maximum number of business and leisure visitors to the country in general and Gisborne in particular. Membership includes an invitation to the New Year celebrations of the Odyssey’s End/Gisborne 2000 festival starting on December 31 1999. And after 24 hours of partying, Gisborne gets down to displaying its wares with a nine-month trade fair.

More permanent will be the planned waterfront tourism complex on Gisborne’s inner harbour, with an outdoor amphitheatre, visitor information and convention centre. And, on the other side of the Turanganui river, a 100-room resort hotel and conference centre is being built.

A bit further East, Sydney’s activity hits the Richter scale at an even higher level, with preparations for the Olympics in September 1999. PriceWaterhouseCooper is undertaking a study of the city and the possibility of exploiting the Olympics to generate a legacy of improved infrastructure and a strong marketing message. Traditionally, this has been hard to do, the most extreme example being the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, after which the city went bust. The research will be used as the basis for developing a strategy for Sydney until 2020.

But PriceWaterhouseCooper’s investigations, undertaken on behalf of the Committee for Sydney, have already highlighted the fact that Sydney’s popular landmarks – the harbour, opera house and bridge – dwarf its image as a business centre.

Sean Duggan, PriceWaterhouse-Cooper spokesman, says: “Sydney has a positive image overseas as a tourist destination, but we work here too, and many large companies have their headquarters in the city.”

Established to take advantage of the additional exposure associated with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Investment 2000 is a joint venture between the public and private sector to attract foreign investment into Australia.

“The majority of incremental investment into Australia comes from existing investors, so we have started by working with the multinational companies already here,” says Investment 2000 chief executive Andrew Gilkes.

“Investment capital is much more heavily weighted in Europe and North America, but we expect this to change as investors start to look towards the Asia-Pacific region, which produces roughly 30 per cent of the world’s GDP.”

One of the main motivations behind Investment 2000’s marketing of Australia as a business location is the increased regionalisation of corporate operations. Companies are changing operations, so that the sharp end of the business, such as sales and marketing, are provided by local managers in several countries, and other functions – back office, IT and logistics – are located in one place in that timezone.

Changes such as increasing consumerism and demand for services and a booming infrastructure for the provision of commodities and production of manufactured goods are also driving the region’s growth.

According to Gilkes: “Australia’s role in these changes is pivotal. It has an abundant supply of experienced management, professional and technical staff, plus a cutting edge telecommunications and IT infrastructure. There is a sophisticated consumer market, which can be tapped to develop those that are emerging in other parts of the region.”

To exploit these opportunities, Investment 2000 has made presentations to selected companies in Europe and Asia, with North America to follow. The intention is to attract up to 200 corporate investors.

With clever planning, using time differences and the international dateline, and by chartering Concorde, it is possible to celebrate the millennium three times. British Airways has seven supersonic aircraft in its fleet, but despite a flood of telephone enquiries, the airline is not actively marketing them yet. One drawback is the dreaded millennium bug. The national carrier has dedicated 100m to deal with the problem, and is confident of success, but unless air traffic controls worldwide are bug-free, no airline will be able to land at an “infected” airport.

London’s plans for the millennium are well-documented and a number of glitches associated with two of the biggest projects, the Dome and the Jubilee Line, have created problems. But as Robert Gordon Clark, deputy chief executive of London First, points out: “The extension of the Jubilee Line has made it strategically very important. It links Wembley to Stratford, where the Channel Tunnel Rail link will arrive, taking in Westminster, Waterloo and running along the South Bank.”

And part of the marketing plan is the co-funding by the LTB and London First of a marketing post to target business visitors and inward investors. “We want someone who is innovative, creative, a deal-doer,” says Gordon Clark. “We cannot change the face of London to meet the market need. We can only influence the improvements, not the product.”

One of those improvements will be to provide better quality information on the capital before and on arrival. Unfortunately, one of the major initiatives to restore the Thames as the highway of London has been scuppered after the company promoting the scheme, White Horse Fast Ferries, failed to raise sufficient funds on the stock market.

However, Gordon Clark also feels an international exhibition centre would play a vital part in the marketing mix: “One of the city’s greatest weaknesses is the lack of a world class international convention centre capable of holding 5,000 people,” he says. “That business and the associated additional spend goes elsewhere and the economic impact is significant.”

All this activity makes it look rather quiet in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, there is plenty going on, particularly cultural programmes across Continental Europe. In Paris, 2,000 multicoloured fish will swim in the Seine and the Eiffel Tower will lay a vast egg, accompanied by the sound of 2,000 drums from five continents, an idea echoed by African drumming from Cairo to the Cape, culminating in a 24-hour drumbeat. Hanover is running Expo 2000; and in Spain, Santiago de Compostela will run special programmes with other activities across the country.

There will be a variety of cultural activities in Italy, with those in Rome eclipsed by religious pilgrimages to celebrate Christ’s 2000th birthday. But the Christian aspect of the year 2000 means the Muslim world will not be marking it.

Most of this activity across Europe, although promoted in the usual way through local branches of tourism associations, will not benefit from any special drive.

But Greece’s advertising campaign for the millennium puts all of this activity into perspective: “Greece: 2000 AD or 2000 BC? The authentic choice.”

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