'Millions of very happy people have to be worth something'

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau on the finances, the failures, and the future of the Dome
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The Independent Online

30 December 2000

30 December 2000

Q: Has the Dome been a success?

A: The difference between success and failure lies between two figures: The 12 million visitors that were originally forecast, and the one year we had to make it a success. Twelve million visitors was never a realistic forecast but it was the measure by which we were judged. And one year was never long enough to make an attraction like the Dome financially viable. If you are going to lay out £750m then you need more than one year to see a return. If we had had five years, we could have broken even after two or three years and then gone into a profit by year five. But one year? It was never enough.

Personally, I think we have been successful. We have made 6.5 million people very happy. Our satisfaction rate is 88 per cent - 90 per cent if you ask how happy people were with the staff. We have been slaughtered by the media, but we have turned the Dome around and made it one of the premier attractions in the world.


Q: If you were a politician, would you have built the Dome?

A: I am not a politician but I do know that if you are launching a project like this, then you need to look at your market potential and ask, how many people will it attract? After that, you can work out a cost structure and a plan for the future. An estimate of 4 million would have been realistic. And if that had been the projection, everybody would have been saying we did a wonderful job.


Q: Have politicians let you down?

A: There has been political warfare over the Dome and that has not helped. To have politicians saying we should have been closed down when we were actually doing quite well did not help. I don't want to get political, but we could have used more support and promotion.


Q: Are you considering a management buyout?

A: I was approached by a financial consortium and we made an offer because I think the Dome has a viable future as a major attraction. But our offer was rejected by the Government and I am prepared to accept that.


Q: Do you feel let down by anyone?

A: I think a lot of people have been hurt by the Dome. There are a lot of casualties, a lot of people's reputations have been damaged. But I don't want to name and shame. Perhaps I can say I feel let down by the establishment, by poor planning, poor design. But that's as far as I want to go.


Q: The latest estimate of the cost of the Dome is £854m. Can you justify that?

A: Yes, I think so. If you look at how the East End of London was compared with now, I think there has been a great improvement. It was a wasteland, and now the transport is better. Businesses have moved in - companies like Sainsbury's, Homebase, Comet, there is a cinema and 1,400 new homes. It's much more alive now. But also, if you look at our achievements at the Dome. The staff are fantastic, they have worked wonders. I have never worked with such a dedicated and professional group of people. And 6.5 million people have come and had a wonderful experience.


Q: Your last grant from the Millennium Commission was £47m but you have been doing well since then. Will that be returned?

A: I can't say one way or another because that is the responsibility of the executive chairman, David James. What I do know is that it hasn't been touched so far because it was asked for to serve as a sort of overdraft that hasn't been needed. But it might be needed to wind up the company.


Q: What's next for you?

A: I really don't know. I haven't been looking for a job because that would have been unfair to my staff - to have one eye on the Dome and one eye somewhere else. I finish round the middle of January and I don't know what will happen after that.

Ideally, I would like to stay in Britain. I have grown to love the place, and particularly the people. They support the underdog and that's what we were. And we got great support from everyone who came.