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Beijing Olympic Games trip not a "jolly"

Olympic chiefs in Beijing for today's opening ceremony insist they are not on a "taxpayers' jolly" but aiming to bring economic gold to Kent and Medway.

Inward investment, training camps and tourism are high up their agenda on the trip to the Chinese capital.

Some parts of the UK have sent large delegations to China, but Kent and Medway councils claim to be keeping participation to a minimum.

Chris Hespe, Kent County Council's head of sport, leisure and 2012 Games, said he was the only member of the Kent 2012 Partnership going to Beijing on a trip organised by Tourism South East.

Armed with a new Kent DVD, he is promoting the county to the 204 nations taking part as a great place for training camps.

He will also be looking at safety and security issues, integrated ticketing systems, transport and the movement of people, and how Beijing business has been shaping up for the 2008 Games.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "It would be highly embarrassing if Kent was not represented. We’ve got to be there. We are not going in force whereas other areas are. Unless we go, we won’t find out. If we don’t go, we could miss out on an enormous opportunity for Kent."

Medway council is represented by Helen Cockersole, who works with 2012 manager Bob Dimond.

Mr Dimond said the outlay of £12,500 would be cost effective because she would be able to speak to most of the 204 nations taking part in the Games while they were all in one place. It would be too expensive to visit each country separately.

"It gives us the opportunity to sell Medway as part of the south east to overseas countries," he said. "That has benefits that go way beyond pure sporting benefits. You don’t need many extra tourists to turn that initial outlay into a huge profit."

VisitKent, the agency that promotes tourism, said it was not sending anybody, but leaving the job to Tourism South East (TSE). TSE is using the London 2012 Games to increase tourism revenue by £1 billion between 2009 and 2017.

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