'Best month' for Dome still 4,000 down on daily target

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The Independent Online

The Operators of the Millennium Dome failed to reach their target for attendance again last month, despite hopes that an influx of tourists would boost visitor figures.

The Operators of the Millennium Dome failed to reach their target for attendance again last month, despite hopes that an influx of tourists would boost visitor figures.

The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) said yesterday that an average of 17,781 people visited the attraction each day last month, nearly 4,000 down on the daily figure it needs to break even.

August, the last full month of the school holidays and the peak of the tourist season, was expected to be the Dome's best month for visitors. But it managed to attract only 551,216 visitors, taking its total for the year to 4,271,008.

It now needs to attract 2.7 million people in the last four months of the year if it is to reach its revised projected target of 7 million visitors.

Numbers are expected to slump in October and November, leaving Pierre Yves Gerbeau, NMEC's chief executive, to pin his hopes on a huge rush of visitors in December to see the Dome before it closes.

An NMEC spokesman refused to discuss the implications of the August figures last night. But Mr Gerbeau insisted it was still a good month and highlighted another recent visitor survey showing 87.6 per cent satisfaction rates.

The Dome's figures for the year still far outstrip the Alton Towers total of 2.65 million and Madame Tussaud's 2.6 million. The NMEC spokesman said: "The Dome is confirmed as a world-beating attraction - No 1 in the UK and No 2 in Europe on visitor numbers, with approval ratings that our international competitors envy."

Although the Dome's August attendance figure is the highest monthly total excluding free school visits, it is still only the fifth best monthly total since it opened in January when school trips are included.

The attendance figure greatly increases the risk that NMEC will fail to meet its revised target, set in May. The Dome - in Greenwich, south-east London - opened with claims it would attract 12 million paying visitors, but thefigure was trimmed to 10 million in February, and cut again three months later to7 million, including 1 million free school visits.

The latest figures also raise the risk that NMEC may run into debt, forcing the Millennium Commission to bail it out with further lottery grants. NMEC has already been given a further £43m emergency grant - lent against a £53m pay-out that it will receive as its share from the sale of the Dome to Nomura International, a Japanese bank.

NMEC has spent £13.13m of that loan, and faces running out of money before December. The commission refused to comment on that possibility.

A spokeswoman insisted the August attendance figures were reasonable. She said: "It has been a good month in that 550,000 people have gone and 80 odd per cent have been having a good time, but it still has some way to go. There's half term and the end of the year to come."

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