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Sunday, Jul 22, 2018
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Local leaders look beyond Bollywood as celebration begins

TAMPA — Yvonne Capin stands in the crowd waiting at the airport on distinguished guests arriving for the International India Film Academy’s “Bollywood Oscars.”

Capin, though, is no screaming fan of the parade of Indian hunks flying in; she’s a Tampa city councilwoman, meeting four representatives from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The group’s annual conference, Capin said, attracts up to 4,000 out-of-towners — and they have yet to book a host city for 2017. Capin invited them to Tampa during the Bollywood Oscars, to show off a bit.

The four-day event kicks off today and is expected to draw as many as 30,000 visitors — but local leaders already are looking beyond the Bollywood Oscars to the exposure and future benefits it will bring.

“Look what this community did for Bollywood and how we came together to make this happen,” Capin said Wednesday, practicing her pitch. “Your conference would be just as successful.”

She added, back in real time, “If we get this conference, it would be an immediate return on the Bollywood investment.”

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It’s been a bumpy 10 months since Tampa was announced as the first U.S. city to host the Bollywood Oscars — a change in date and venue, two lawsuits, and concerns within the hotel industry that room bookings would fall short of predictions.

Now, it appears the target of 10,000 hotel room-nights has been hit and the number is expected to grow until Saturday night when the main event is held at Raymond James Stadium, said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association.

Booking started slow, Morrison said, but as predicted, tourists reserved their rooms at the last minute.

From 3,000 to 5,000 people are expected to attend the opening celebration 7 p.m. today at Curtis Hixon Park downtown, said Santiago Corrada, CEO and president of tourism promoter Visit Tampa Bay. That’s on par with other parties there, such as the Margarita Festival and Spring Beer Fling said Monica Varner, whose Élan Event Studio helps plan them.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has been asked to prepare for a crowd of 8,500 at Friday night’s Magic of the Movies and Technical Awards at the Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre, said sheriff’s Maj. Al Greco. That’s down from the 14,000 originally anticipated.

“That is still a huge crowd for that event,” Corrada said.

And the climactic Bollywood Oscars are expecting a crowd of 25,000.

“I never had any doubts that it would all work out,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, credited with helping bring the event here.

Still, neither Higginbotham nor Corrada was ready to guarantee the prediction of $30 million in immediate economic impact

Corrada said it will be hard to prove the number of visitors the event brings. The figure is based on hotel room nights booked but many visitors may be staying with family.

Tampa Bay is home to an estimated 35,000 Indian Americans.

“If you are coming to this area and have the option of a hotel room or an opulent home owned by friends or family, where would you choose?” asked Corrada.

“There will be an economic impact,” he said. “That I guarantee.”

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Unlike in past host cities, governments here spent little on the Bollywood Oscars.

The government of Ontario spent $12 million on the Indian film academy awards when they were held in Toronto in 2011. Most of the money went to Wizcraft, which created the awards event and is its main producer.

Hillsborough County has spent only $1 million and the state of Florida $700,000, using the money to market the area as a tourist destination to likely awards attendees.

The city of Tampa is contributing in-kind services, waving the $50,000 rental fee for the Convention Center, for example.

The rest of the money Wizcraft asks the host city to provide has been raised by the private sector.

There were pitfalls along the way for Tampa — first, the change of place and date.

When it became clear the Forum downtown was too small for the event, it was moved to Raymond James Stadium. The new outdoor venue required moving up the date from July to April, to avoid the rainy season.

Planning an event of this magnitude in a short period was made more challenging because the production company, Wizcraft, is headquartered in India — a 9 1/2 hour time difference.

Then there was the cancellation of “buzz events,” a series of public celebrations of the Indian culture meant to excite residents about the Bollywood Oscars.

And two Florida companies have filed separate lawsuits against organizers of the event, saying they signed on to do production and travel work only to be frozen out or left holding the bag on expenses they incurred.

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Commissioner Higginbotham said Tampa will benefit greatly from hosting the Bollywood Oscars — long term more than short term.

Councilwoman Capin echoed that, saying organizers for at least three other conferences besides the one representing Latin elected officials will be in Tampa this week scoping possible convention sites. In all, she said, these four conferences would equal 44,000 hotel room nights over the next few years.

Corrada is primarily concerned with the number of global media impressions Tampa receives.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are expected to watch the Bollywood Oscars when the show airs June 22. News outlets in their nations already are covering it.

“Parts of the world are hearing about Tampa Bay that never have before,” he said.

Then there is the business forum sponsored by the Indian film academy, bringing some of India’s most successful CEOs to Tampa, and pitches to the Bollywood film industry to make movies here.

“To look at this as just one weekend,” Higginbotham said, “is shortchanging it.”

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