Dome chief denies seeking £20m boost

The chief executive of the Millennium Dome said yesterday he was "assessing the financial situation" amid reports that he had asked for a further £20m bail-out from the Government.

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau admitted that visitor numbers over the Easter holiday period were so far not as good as he had hoped. "Obviously, the Easter period should be booming," he said. "It's not at the moment, I am afraid. Easter is not going to be as good as we thought, so we now have two make-or-break periods."

He said those periods were the summer and the months before the Dome's scheduled closure at the end of the year.

But while Mr Gerbeau conceded it would be a challenge to reach his break-even target of 10 million visitors for the year, he denied that the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), which runs the Dome, was looking for more money from the National Lottery. "We are assessing the financial situation, but it is not at the moment in question," he said. "Anybody who wants to give me £20m, I would be happy, but I am not asking for £20m at the moment."

He denied the Government was putting pressure on him to lift visitor numbers and save the Dome from becoming an embarrassment. In an interview with Sky News he said Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Cabinet Office minister with special responsibility for the Dome, was "very supportive".

Mr Gerbeau said queues at the attraction's Body Zone had been cut from up to 150 minutes when he joined to 15 minutes now, even on busy days. The introduction of more "fun" events had increased visitor enjoyment to the point where nine out of 10 now said they had had a very good time.

"Since February, word of mouth has been our best ambassador," he said. "Talking about numbers, it is going to be a big challenge, but we are looking forward towards summer, because the tourist market will give a tremendous impact."

If visitor totals reach two million by the end of April, as Mr Gerbeau predicts, that will represent a daily average of 16,529, and will leave a target of 32,653 a day for the rest of the year to hit his 10 million target. An extra £20m subsidy would bring the NMEC's public backing up to £529m.

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