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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Editorial: Tampa exits Bollywood stage triumphant

Once again a major event has been held in Tampa. And once again the city, the county and the organizers behind the staging of the event have come through with flying colors.

The International Indian Film Academy awards events held over four days last week were an overwhelming success. Each of the events — global business forums, concerts and fashion shows, an international acting panel, and the IIFA Awards ceremony Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium — drew enthusiastic crowds that were larger than anticipated.

The crowning event, the IIFA Awards, drew more than 25,000 people and was telecast to a global audience of 800 million people or more. The show started with a tribute to Tampa. Actors praised the city during the event.

“And that will be replayed around the world over and over,” says Visit Tampa Bay President Santiago Corrada. “People will see that and want to come here.”

That’s part of the long-term impact the awards will have.

The immediate impact was realized in hotel rooms booked and shopping bags filled by the thousands of Bollywood fans who came from around the world to be close to the movie stars most Americans wouldn’t recognize if they sat next to them on a plane.

But Bollywood is big business in many parts of the world, selling 3.6 billion movie tickets a year. That’s why landing its showcase event was such a coup for the area. Never before had it been held in the United States, and Tampa now joins major international cities such as London and Singapore as having hosted the event.

That didn’t happen by chance.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham sowed the seeds of success after responding to complaints from his Indian constituents about a lack of cricket facilities at county parks. Higginbotham turned those contacts into a relentless recruiting effort to land the IIFA Awards.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the entire Visit Tampa Bay team proved again that the city is capable of successfully hosting major events. The IIFA Awards can be added to the four Super Bowls and the 2012 Republican National Convention the city has hosted.

But IIFA added an international flavor not seen before. Tampa is now known as a place that embraces cultural diversity.

The exposure came at a minimal public cost. The county pledged about $1 million, of which $900,000 came from hotel bed taxes paid by visitors rather than Hillsborough taxpayers. The city made its facilities available and provided other in-kind services. “There was a level of cooperation by the city and county not enjoyed around here for decades,” Higginbotham says.

In the end, the organizers delivered a triumphant performance that will keep Tampa on the A-list for years to come and should further energize public officials and event recruiters to continue to think big.

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