SCMP Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Second EuroChristmas skates on thin ice


Dreams of a second white Christmas in Hong Kong are melting because of a lukewarm reception from potential sponsors.
Organisers of EuroChristmas 2000, co-ordinated by the Tourism Commission and held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, have been unable to find a sponsor willing to put up $12 million seed money.
Coca-Cola China, which last year invested $13 million in a "Winter Magic" exhibit that failed to enchant many a paying visitor, has decided against being title sponsor while Heineken, which sponsored a "Stars on Ice" skating show, has not yet made up its mind. "If funding is not forthcoming very soon, there will simply not be time for us to organise properly," says Erwin Hardy, chairman of the organising committee.
The main sponsor for last year's EuroChristmas, the Pacific Century Group, is not expected to be in a position to make significant donations this year.
EuroChristmas, which was aimed at putting Hong Kong on the map as Asia's Christmas capital, is now in danger of being overtaken by Bahrain, Singapore, Tokyo or Bangkok, which are all interested in staging events.
Mr Hardy expressed disappointment at the lack of support for the initiative, which last year drew more than 1.1 million visitors between December 16 and January 2, including tens of thousands of tourists.
"Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the first EuroChristmas," he said. "Now I am disappointed generally with the funding of tourism events. Hong Kong is relying too much on private initiatives compared to other countries."
Commissioner for Tourism Rebecca Lai Ko Wing-yee stressed the Government was committed to major events as part of its tourism development and promotion work. Ms Lai said she had been in touch with potential major sponsors, but so far none had said they would take part.
"We need to explore new ways of making things happen," she said. "EuroChristmas 2000 was the fruit of close co-operation among government, the local and European community and industry organisations. It would not have been possible without the very generous support of private-sector sponsors."
Frank Lee, chairman of the Association of Better Business and Tourism Services, said: "It will be very unfortunate if [EuroChristmas] is snared by some other country."
Organisers last year distanced themselves from the "Winter Magic" display after visitors said it failed to live up to expectations. At least 21 complaints were formally lodged with the Consumer Council by visitors disappointed to find an inflatable slide, a picture backdrop of an ice-castle and one snow machine in place of the advertised slopes for toboggan rides, a real ice-castle and 18 snow machines.
Scott Price, director and country manager for Coca-Cola, said at the time people had been misinformed by "out-of-control public relations".
Mr Hardy admitted the organisation of EuroChristmas could have been slicker, but said the high level of participation from government and business sectors in Europe and Hong Kong, and visitor numbers of more than 1.1 million, were proof of success.
"On an event of this scale we obviously learned some lessons," he said. "But people liked it. It was unique for Asia. It could develop into an annual attraction for tourists and locals."