Here comes the Millenniyawn

The hype merchants are aghast, for on New Year's Eve most of us will stay home, writes Mark Rowe

WITH THE millennium only 75 days away, it's too late to see it arrive in Rome, Rio or Sydney, isn't it? And don't even think of going to Edinburgh - surely everything was booked up long ago? Wrong: a combination of Y2K fears, greed among hoteliers, tour operators and their employees, flight cancellations and a simple desire among most people to celebrate in the company of their family and friends means that the business and travel bonanza many had expected is unlikely to happen.

WITH THE millennium only 75 days away, it's too late to see it arrive in Rome, Rio or Sydney, isn't it? And don't even think of going to Edinburgh - surely everything was booked up long ago? Wrong: a combination of Y2K fears, greed among hoteliers, tour operators and their employees, flight cancellations and a simple desire among most people to celebrate in the company of their family and friends means that the business and travel bonanza many had expected is unlikely to happen.

In Britain the shadow of August's total eclipse has fallen over the Millennium build-up. The talk before the eclipse was of uncontrollable hordes of people descending on the West Country for an unparalleled display of human bonding. In fact, far fewer than expected turned up and many events had to be cancelled. Will the Millennium be a similarly damp squib?

The official line is that New Year's Eve will be a triumphant expression of national joy. More than 2.5 million of us, we are told, will flock to see the Thames turned into a "river of fire" by a firework display while across the country town centres will be awash with revellers. In reality, there is every likelihood that the same people who always choose to get drunk in public on 31 December will do so again, while most of us, as usual, will stay at home.

The first big millennium cancellation came last week when dance band M People scrapped a New Year's Eve gig at the Manchester Evening News Arena. The band will now play the venue on Monday 27 December. A New Year's Eve bash in the King's Hall in Belfast was cancelled after only 50 tickets were sold, despite the promise of prizes such as a Ferrari, a Rolex or a Caribbean holiday. West End theatres will stay dark. Football, rugby and racing events will have to wait until the New Year. Hundreds of music and dance clubs will shut, because musicians and staff either do not want to work or have demanded huge fees.

Not everyone is staying in - a concert in the grounds of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, featuring Simply Red, the Eurythmics and Bryan Ferry is being heavily promoted and the Manic Street Preachers hope to pack 54,000 into Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on the big night. A concert by Sir Cliff Richard in Birmingham has almost sold out.

Bass breweries are working flat out for what the company anticipates will be a very boozy evening - but the company is closing its All Bar One chain of bars at 6pm on 31 December.

Travel companies which licked their lips for years at the prospect of vast Millennium profits are now licking their wounds. Few people are interested in paying a small fortune to fly to the South Pacific to witness the "first dawn of the Millennium". The Travel Trust Association, which represents independent travel agents, said that greedy operators and inflated prices had played a major role in disappointing sales figures. Other factors, including fears over the Y2K bug and the assumption that such holidays would in fact be sold out, have also contributed. Now may be the time to book, for many firms are offering big discounts on lavish packages. Lunn Poly, for example, is offering up to £200 off millennium breaks.

Some ordinary local pubs, normally free to enter, are asking up to £75 per ticket, and clubs up to £150. Whether they will be still asking that much on the night is another question.

In Edinburgh, the world capital of Hogmanay, where 3,000 bagpipers are expected to begin the celebrations by marching down the Royal Mile, millennium hotel prices have plummetted. "We've cut prices by an average of 50 per cent of what was originally planned," said the manager of one major hotel. "There is much more competition this year than previously for New Year trade, so many hotels are only half-full, when they would expect by now to be 70 per cent booked. Many of them have invested in hi-falutin' deals which they can't sell."

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