THE opening of the gigantic Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island later this year is set to attract an estimated 50,000 people a day to walk up its 260 steps. That would be a 10-fold increase in the number of people visiting Po Lin Monastery. About 5,000 people visit the temple on Sundays and public holidays and only a few hundred tourists go there during weekdays. The monastery's master, Chi Wai, said the Buddha, 23 metres high and weighing 248 tonnes, would be the world's largest out-door Buddha. It cost about $68 million to build and will be formally unveiled on December 29. ''We have invited about 30,000 VIPs, guests, and Buddhist leaders from 35 countries to attend the unveiling ceremony,'' Chi Wai said. It is understood that local dignitaries including the Governor, Chris Patten, Hong Kong director of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) Zhou Nan and other Chinese officials have been invited. Chi Wai expects an estimated 20,000 additional people would be attracted to the opening ceremony. But he was worried the occasion would become uncontrollable. ''We will work together with TVB to screen the two-hour ceremony live. We hope this will keep people at home on that day to watch the programme on TV,'' he said. He said they were still discussing problems like traffic arrangements with government departments and ferry and bus companies. Island district commander Senior Superintendent Morgan Majurey said a crowd control system would be in place. One villager Tsang Wai-ming, who has been living there for 40 years, fears the influx of visitors would cause problems. ''In the past, it was a very quiet and crime-free area and we didn't need to close our gates and doors at night. But recently, we have had to keep our gates and doors closed to prevent robbery,'' he said. Mr Tsang hoped police would step up patrols to maintain law and order. The two-way double-lane Ngong Ping Road leading to Po Lin is now open to all vehicles after two years of improvement work.