COUNTDOWN TO 2000

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Americans remember their whereabouts on certain historical dates, such as V-E Day or President Kennedy's assassination.

Even though another memorable event-the first day of 2000-is more than three years away, there is a marketing machine gearing up.

Cities, hotels, cruise lines and other destination marketers are thinking about how best to associate their brands with the moment Dec. 31, 1999 ends, and the 2000s begins.

BIG APPLE

It's probably safe to say that this is going to be The Big One. As host to the country's best-known New Year's celebration, New York is gearing up to cash in on the transition to 2000 like nowhere else.

"We are looking at it as a total marketing initiative," says Andrew Freeman, chairman of New York's Millennium Committee and VP-public relations for The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World restaurants.

"The agenda of the committee," he adds, "is to promote everything that New York City has to offer and to make New York the place to be in 1999."

Rather than concentrating just on New Year's Eve, Mr. Freeman says, the committee is planning to create a "millennium season," starting in the summer of 1999. Ironically, the next millennium, experts agree, doesn't begin until 2001, since there was no year 0.

He hopes to lure not just visitors but also consumer-goods marketers to the festivities.

"I want to have an official everything: champagne, film, trips, entertainment," he says. The committee doesn't have an agency but plans to hire one in the future.

The Millennium Committee, put together by the Convention & Visitors Bureau, counts as its members 70 "top people" from the tourism, hotel, restaurant and attractions industries, Mr. Freeman says.

Yet, as he encourages them to "get their preliminary plans together," he has not been neglecting his own properties.

The Rainbow Room opened up a waiting list two years ago and quickly sold 200 advance seats for an initial deposit of $500. The waiting list is now at 800 for an evening expected to cost $1,000 per person.

While the Millennium Committee is in charge of boosting the Big Apple as a whole, the city's core New Year's property has, of course, long been the celebration in Times Square.

The Times Square Business Improvement District has been thinking about Dec. 31, 1999 for some time now and last month announced its plans for the big night after a two-year search for

screens around Times Square and begin broadcasting live celebrations from around the world at 7 a.m. Eastern time when 2000 first arrives in Fiji. The broadcast will continue until the new millennium has been observed in all 24 time zones.

"We will, at the communications capital of the world, salute the global village," says Gretchen Dykstra, BID president.

To help defray the enormous expense of such an undertaking, Ms. Dykstra says that she is "looking for a handful of, if you will, blue-chip sponsors." And, indeed, some marketers have already begun to express interest, Ms. Dykstra says, including a financial services company (AA, Nov. 4).

Cruise lines SET SAIL

For celebrants wishing to ring in 2000 on the bounding main, several cruise operators have already announced special voyages tied to the event.

Carnival Cruise Lines began accepting deposits for turn-of-the-century trips in October, although final pricing and itineraries won't be announced until late 1997.

The most lavish plans so far have come from the only cruise line that was around for the last time the century changed: Cunard, which will have all five of its vessels afloat from Egypt to the Caribbean, Barbados, Indonesia and Mexico.

"Many people say a lot of things are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but this one really is," says Peter Bates, exec VP-sales and marketing.

The company began focusing on the possibilities about 18 months ago, Mr. Bates says, when it was approached by a group of Britons who wanted to book the Queen Elizabeth II for a millennium cruise.

Cunard is marketing the cruises first to its current customer base via direct mail, from Fox Pavlika, New York, in a campaign taglined, "It only happens once every thousand years."

Deposits to get on the waiting list are $1,000; pricing for the cruises hasn't been announced yet, although Mr. Bates says: "They won't be more expensive [than usual], but we won't be offering any discounts."

Currently, a 14-day Caribbean cruise on one of the company's vessels goes for about $10,000.

TIME TRAVEL

In what may end up as being one of the most-talked about travel promotions of the current millennium, Air France has put together a package for a flight on the Concorde that will take contest winners to a New Year's celebration in at least four different time zones.

According to Bob Rodriguez, president of the agency handling the Air France effort, Miami-based NatCom Marketing, the carrier's Concorde will depart from Paris a few minutes into Jan. 1, 2000, and

arrive at least 30 minutes before midnight Dec. 31 in Newfoundland, British Columbia and Hawaii.

At each stop, Mr. Rodriguez says, "We envision acts of major prominence-the best of the best."

NatCom is currently "looking for a consumer-oriented Fortune 100" marketer to partner with the airline and hopes to have someone lined up by early next year.

And whoever it is had better start saving now. Mr. Rodriguez says the promotion "has got a giant price tag on it; it starts at $10 million."

HOTEL BOOKINGS

Several hotel chains-particularly those with properties in or near prime millennium locations -have already begun kicking around ideas for ways to take advantage of it.

For instance, while Hilton Hotels is not yet accepting reservations for New Year's Eve in their New York and Las Vegas properties, it is taking prospective guests' names.

"We don't usually take bookings [this far in advance]. At this juncture, for an individual traveler, it would be difficult" to secure a room at a specific property, says Jeanne Datz, director of communications. However, she says, Hilton has already given the heads-up to ad agency Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, and PR shop Douglas Consulting Group to begin thinking about possible millennium programs, with an eye "towards events that will hopefully be global in scale."

Included in the possibilities, Ms. Datz says, are events, consumer promotions, employee promotions, food & beverage promotions and travel agent promotions.

And, of course, like any hotel chain, Hilton will have to take care of its most loyal customers first.

ITT/Sheraton Corp. properties also hope to give preferential treatment to its best customers.

Although the chain's approach to marketing the millennium is still being planned, Senior VP-Marketing & Strategic Planning David Van Kalsbeek says the primary focus is likely to be on what he calls "gateway cities," such as New York, Paris, Rome and Hong Kong.

"We hope to give our loyal Sheraton customers first shot at being where they want to be," he says. In addition, he says, Sheraton's property in Fiji is likely to be hot, along with Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

"We don't just want to sell New Year's Eve," he says, "We want to put together packages that are complete [and] lengthen the stay period."

ATTRACTIVE CITIES

New Year's Eve is a big draw in New Orleans, best known for its raucous Mardi Gras celebrations.

Although the city has yet to finalize plans for the millennium, "New Year's Eve 1999 is probably going to be Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and the Super Bowl all rolled into one," says Beverly Ginna, director of public affairs for the Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

At least one local business is getting an early start on things. The Windsor Court Hotel is now taking reservations for its "Time Machine" bash. The price tag, including two nights in a suite and limousine service, is $2,000.

In Las Vegas, New Year's Eve is already one of the biggest days of the year, according to Rossi Ralenkotter, VP-marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority.

"Every single hotel, every single casino, has some big event [and] New Year's Eve is always close to 100% sold out," he says.

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