The Millennium Experience, an idea dreamt up by a tired Conservative government on its way out. Inherited and blown to a completely new, extravagant level by New Labour. A national event marking the 21st century, a symbol representing the best of Britain and a brighter future.

This event should have been the foundations to the Labour party’s legacy in Government again. But instead, it became a national embarrassment, and we haven’t and can’t forget about it because the dome structure was built to be so big and unusual, and along with other millennium projects have changed London’s famous skyline.

So now in times of a coalition government, when budgets are being thrashed, the country still in a recession and with the London 2012 Olympic Event just around the corner, I’ve decided to look back at key lessons that should have been learnt from the millennium experience to avoid the same mistakes happening with other large scale events, such as the Olympic Games:

1. Guests’ experience begins before they arrive to the venue
The Millennium Dome and Experience was doomed from the first night it opened…

• organisers didn’t post the tickets in time for the launch night, which meant guests had to get to a specific train station before the event to collect their tickets

• due to a number of high profile guests attending the launch night, such as the Queen, Prime Minister and other VIPs, all attendees had to spend the first part of the evening in queues waiting to walk through one of four security gates (and only three were working properly), this meant journalists and editors and some of the major sponsors (and their families) were waiting outside in the December weather

• the venue had poor access by cars and was built with limited parking spaces, which meant the attraction was only really accessible by public transport

2. No white elephants, plan for lasting legacies
AEG have completely re-branded and transformed the dome, now the O2, to one of Europe’s largest music venues. But did take a long time for the government to get rid of it…

Originally the dome was meant to be a temporary structure, pulled down after a year or so, however when New Labour took on the project they decided to build an icon that would last, but without finding a reason for it to stay…

• the dome took three years to put up and cost £850m to build, maintain and run. After the year long Millennium Experience finished the dome was completely empty costing the taxpayers £275,000 a month to maintain, while the government searched for a buyer

• it proved very difficult to find new uses for the site, the government even announced a public competition to find a long-term use for the Millennium Dome, which proved poor planning and was just to late

3. Substance over style
Thankfully, everybody knows what the Olympics are, however a major problem for the dome was that for a long time it was just a idea, a vision – no one could really put there finger on what exactly was going inside, just vague responses…

• “intended as a symbol of a bolder, brighter Britain”

• “a thrilling expression of British culture”.

4. Have the right people on the job
The original team responsible for building the dome, also operated it – which meant a major lack of the right skills…

• for an event the size of the Millennium Experience, you need professional builders to build it and event organisers and managers to run it, the right people for the job

• just after opening, many of the interactive games and displays had technical problems and stopped working properly, and the dome didn’t have a maintenance department

5. Money Matters
When an event is as large as the Millennium Experience, every penny needs to be monitored to ensure good value and avoid wastage…

• a PR firm had been paid almost £340,000 to promote the Dome, once it had closed

• it was reported on the BBC website that John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister 1997-2007), said that the dome did not cost the public money, it came from the lottery. However the lottery funds are used to fund and support good causes such as charitable organisations, and when the public hears about wastage and unnecessary they would rather the money went somewhere else

6. Exploit all marketing avenues
Looking back the Culture Department and Millennium Commission were reported saying “many more commercial opportunities could have been exploited if the marketing arrangements had been properly planned and managed…the effectiveness of marketing was constrained by uncertainty about the Dome’s contents”.

7. Think about the event as a whole
With events, not only does an event organiser need to take a functionalist approach, planning every piece of the event in detail, but also needs to stand back and take a holistic approach, seeing the bigger picture to ensure everything is covered and fits together…

• the dome was built with the largest roof in the world, however there was only heat in the individual attractions

• there was no transition between each themed area

• guests flocked to the popular attractions in the dome, which weren’t designed to handle the heavy traffic, and the queues were massive

8. Keep politics separate
I’m going to finish this post with the words of Prime Minister, at the time, Tony Blair…

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if I had my time again I would have listened to those who said governments shouldn’t try to run tourist attractions” (Observer, 2007)

Tagged with: , , , , ,