Mark Sharpe has some advice for anyone looking to measure the real, immediate economic impact of Bollywood in Tampa: “Good luck,” he said.
Sure, there are estimates and forecasts, the Hillsborough County commissioner said. Everyone seems to have them. Managers of individual restaurants like Taco Bus or hotels like the Westin Tampa Bay individually say there’s been some spike in their traffic. But as for real data across the region, that remains a mystery.
Here’s one reason, Sharpe said. Major entertainment, hospitality and transportation agencies in town may have their own plans and numbers, “but there’s no one hub,” he said, “that gathers it all together and helps us plan big events like this.”
The convention center knows what it has going on. So does the Forum. So do the individual hotels. But unlike other cities, Sharpe said, the Tampa region seems to have no central agency that says X-many people will be here, so Tampa will need Y-number of extra police on hand or — most importantly — Z-number of taxpayer dollars devoted to attracting the event in the first place.
Eventually, he said, any Bollywood bump data will trickle in from various sources like “bed tax” receipts from hotels, and sales tax numbers from restaurants, and perhaps in several months there will be a better picture of how much extra business Bollywood brought to town. In the meantime, unless people are willing to believe the marketing boosters of the event, he said the best reality check is calling individual companies and asking how their week went.
An estimated 8,000 people came to the Bollywood “Stomp” party at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Wednesday night, and that gave a 28 percent boost to the Taco Bus location nearby on Franklin Street, compared to the average night, said owner Rene Valenzuela. Around the corner on Ashley Street, Pizza Fusion had a good night, too, said owner Dave Burton. “I’d say about a 20 percent increase over our normal Wednesday numbers.”
The Stomp event was meant primarily for locals to come experience some Indian culture. The picture of how many extra people came to town from somewhere else is a bit murkier — at least when measuring right now.
Tampa International Airport officials say they don’t have data yet on the number of visitors who flew from abroad into Tampa.
“The hotels right downtown are full,” said Dilip Kanji, a prominent hotelier who is both on the board of the Indo-U.S. Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Westin hotel on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the “preferred” hotel for the event. “Westshore area hotels are doing OK. We’re doing OK. A lot of people are driving in for a day from other parts of Florida.”
D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the Pinellas County visitors bureau, said there has been no apparent spike in hotel stays in Pinellas County from the Bollywood events.
In Tampa, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino hosted a major party Friday night for several hundred guests, said spokeswoman Gina Morales, giving that venue not only a direct boost for food and drinks but also traffic to the casino floor.
By contrast, there’s a growing list of local companies who quickly soured on the whole event, including AVI-SPL of Tampa, which filed suit against Go Bollywood Tampa Bay, a host committee set up to raise money and promote Bollywood here, after the cancellation of several “buzz events” AVI was to help produce.
Boosters of events like Bollywood say much of the appeal of attracting and hosting events like these comes from the relationships built between local businesses and those outside the region — a chance to highlight this area across the world and spark business deals that will bear fruit in years to come.
“Hotels appear to be exceeding the 10,000 room nights goal we had,” said Santiago Corrada, chief executive officer and president of Visit Tampa Bay. “We will have a more definite number after the bed tax collections are accounted for.”
Corrada said he had no information about traffic at local restaurants.
Given that guests from abroad will likely stay two or three nights, that 10,000 figure quickly brings down the total number of actual foreign visitors here. But for now, there isn’t any hard data on how much of this has come to fruition. Within the next two weeks, tourism groups could have data from “customer intercept teams” stationed at local events. As for a more extensive economic impact study, they plan one at some point yet to be determined.
Reporter Ted Jackovics contributed to this report.