HK plans to spend up to US$20m on Olympic publicity

AP , HONG KONG

Sun, Nov 11, 2007 - Page 24

Hong Kong is planning to spend up to US$20 million to stir up Olympic fever in the Chinese territory and abroad ahead of next year's Beijing Games, an official said yesterday.

Hong Kong, a former British colony on the southern edge of mainland China, will host the equestrian events of the Games, but officials have admitted there is a lack of interest among the city's money-mad residents.

Legislators will be asked next month to approve a budget of HK$150 million (US$19.2 million) for a host of Olympic-themed events to stir up enthusiasm, including street carnivals and a torch relay.

Almost HK$30 million would go to the quasi-governmental Tourism Bureau, Home Affairs Deputy Secretary Donald Tong (唐智強) told broadcaster RTHK.

"It's entirely up to the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau how they use the HK$29 million, whether in Hong Kong, in the Mainland and overseas in promoting the Olympics," he said.

A rash of equine diseases and substandard quarantine procedures in China forced Beijing to hand the equestrian events to Hong Kong, which has a well-established racing circuit, but few facilities for dressage and show jumping events.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which controls horse racing in the former British colony, has spent about US$100 million on upgrading existing venues and building new ones to host Games events, which will take place between Aug. 9 and Aug. 20.

Tong said the money would help enhance Hong Kong's image overseas and attract visitors who may decide to use Hong Kong as a base from which to attend the Games in China.

The government would also set up two large television screens in parks on both sides of Hong Kong's harbor where people could follow the Beijing Games, he told the radio station.

Lawmakers, however, have criticized the government for leaving it too late to start promoting the events. They also said the two live screen sites were insufficient for Hong Kong's 7 million population, let alone the thousands of extra tourists the city hopes to attract.

The Home Affairs department will submit its Olympic budget proposal to the legislature's finance committee on Dec. 14, when it's expected to pass because of the chamber's pro-Beijing majority.