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Norway is going to remain Europe's best-kept secret, regardless of the winter Olympics.

Lillehammer and its home country in general are eschewing post-Olympic marketing plans. Neither are taking advantage of the rare media spotlight shining on the area where thousands of international winter sports fans are converging this month.

While the Olympics would seem a golden opportunity for Norway to blow its own horn in travel advertising, the Norwegian Tourist Board is being typically non-commercial.

"I don't think you can say that the board has ever had any major budget for marketing," said a spokesman. "The government has not realized the potential and the promise [of Norway as a tourism destination]," he said.

While the tourist board will spend $23 million on marketing this year, only one-third is earmarked for traditional advertising. The remainder will go to promotion and administrative costs.

In the U.K., Norway's second biggest market after Germany, the tourist bureau is spending $375,000 on advertising this year-the same as in 1993-through Fawthrop McLanders, Newcastle. Newspaper advertising with the theme "Norway, Europe's best kept secret" broke in December but did not mention the upcoming Olympics; instead it showed shots of Norway in the summer.

The Norwegian Tourist Board is also spending a measly $200,000 on a new newspaper campaign breaking next month in France, Norway's third biggest market, according to Arild Kristiansen, Paris-based managing director of the Norwegian Tourist Board in France. This will be the Tourist Board's first consumer campaign in France in three years. Created by Paris agency Trigone the campaign features Norwegian summertime scenery with no mention of the Olympics.

Perhaps as a result, ski tour operators are remarkably uninterested in this year's winter Olympics host. It's difficult to find a U.K. operator which "does Norway." Thomson Tour Operations, the U.K.'s largest ski tour company, doesn't feature Norway in its brochures nor does Bladon Lines, London.

Christine Graves, director of Made to Measure, a Chicester-based organizer of ski vacations to the Alps and the U.S., said, "We don't do Norway anymore. There was no demand. It was expensive."

How expensive? Ski Super Travel offers 10-day ski vacations from London to Colorado for about $1,000 (including airfare and shared use of a condominium), half the price of a comparable 10 days in Norway, according to Claus Larsen, the company's operations manager.

Norway and Lillehammer could attract visitors but they need to keep promoting it away, said Keith Friend, managing director of marketing services for Total Marketing Services Group, London. Sue Marsh, owner of her own travel marketing consultancy in Australia, agrees. "There is a lot of snob value in going to an overseas destination," she said.

Local Olympic organizers have placed heavy restrictions on advertising because they don't want the event to obstruct the city's natural beauty. Special signs can be no larger than a stop sign and must be made of wood.

In general, Norwegians try to limit outdoor advertising. "We are very restrictive about their use in Norway," said Sigmund Thue, director of marketing for the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee.

Swix Sport, the ski equipment and clothing manufacturer based in Lillehammer, also isn't likely to win a gold for its ad strategy. The company outfitting the Norwegian ski team is spending even less on advertising than the little it has invested in the past, said Jorgen Walle-Hansen, director of corporate promotions of family-owned Swix parent Tiedemanns. And claiming that advertising is too expensive and casts too wide a net, the company plans no big campaign after the event.

But while Swix may shun expensive advertising, the ski equipment marketer is using other marketing tools. "We like to go more directly towards the sporting goods industry," said Mr. Walle-Hansen, through trade shows and sales visits to distributors.

Swix also is joining forces with Swedish car manufacturer Saab in a promotion that required special permission from the Olympic committee. Some 30 Saab 900's adorned with the Swix logo travel to various skiing events offering competitors the help of a Swix expert in waxing and servicing equipment.

About 20 more cars bearing the company logo are shuttling guests around Lillehammer. "We get lots of visibility with few dollars," said Mr. Walle-Hansen.

For post-Olympics goodwill, Swix will use videos from the Games featuring the Norwegian ski team wearing Swix's new clothing line-bearing the catchy label Swix Technical Wear-at trade shows and sales meetings.

"Conventional advertising doesn't work well for us," said Mr. Walle-Hansen. "Our [marketing] method is very personal. We don't shoot a cannon in the dark."

Also contributing: David Bartal and Christy Fisher.

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