Millennium mania puts the world in work

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The Independent Online
WITH 80 million people expected to visit the world's six biggest millennium attractions alone the approach of 2000 will trigger a huge boom during the next two years.

Projects ranging from the planting of a line of trees along the meridian between Dunkirk and the Pyrenees to a new underground car park in Rome are on track and there are souvenirs galore already on sale.

A new assessment of the likely impact of millennium party-going estimates that it could pump more than pounds 100bn into the world economy. There will be a massive party ahead of the economic hangover due to result from the millennium bug.

The survey of celebrations compiled by Alison Cottrell at Paine Webber, a City investment bank, suggests that the projected 12 million visitors to the Greenwich dome in 2000 will lag behind 15 million expected to visit Rome and 40 million predicted for Hanover's Expo 2000. The Sydney Olympics is expected to attract 5.5 million, California's "Party 2000" 2.5 million and the Holy Land 4 million pilgrims.

As well as the extra tourist spending, the anticipated flow of visitors to these and a host of other attractions has already sparked off a spate of building work.

Apart from that car park, most of Rome's planned improvements have been abandoned - a bit of a problem in a city that is expecting 50,000 visitors a day in 2000 but has inadequate transport, too few hotel rooms and only 40 public lavatories. However, Hanover has a budget of DM2.9m (pounds 1m) for its exhibition, and proposed spending in the UK is pounds 1.4bn, including the pounds 758m dome.

Almost every country in the Western world is planning some improvements. In France, for example, apart from the 1,200km line of new trees, there will be new footbridges over the Seine in Paris and a Tres Grand Aquarium in La Rochelle. Portugal is building a new stadium in Lisbon.

In the US, California's Party 2000 will cover 4,500 acres, with four camp sites and five stages. Times Square in New York has a crowd capacity of 500,000 but 300 million are expected to watch on television.

The Pyramids in Egypt are one of the sites for the Millennium Society's 24-hour ball - others are the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall. Even tiny Fiji is turning itself into one big concert site for the New Year.

On top of the boost to construction spending and the media there will be a massive surge in sales of souvenirs. Ms Cottrell has tracked down millennium books, millennium lights, millennium cars, millennium clocks, of course, and even a millennium bath mat for sale over the Internet.

"If you add up all the numbers, there will be no one left to do anything else. Unemployment will vanish. The millennium is the ultimate job-creation project," she said.

The temporary economic boost could amount to as much as 1 per cent of the GDP of the Western economies, according to Ms Cottrell.

The catch is that the bust after such a big boom could be enormously painful. The one country that might postpone the hangover is Switzerland, where the world's most punctilious timekeepers are not planning to start celebrating the millennium until 1 January 2001.

Forget the gloom, page 19