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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Tampa International preps for unexpected with Bollywood

TAMPA — George Gyduska is ready for Bollywood, a good thing for those who worked for more than a year to host the International Indian Film Academy awards events in Tampa on Wednesday through Saturday.

The retiree from New Port Richey who volunteers as an information specialist at Tampa International Airport watches endless film clips of Bollywood celebrations on a giant video display panel above the baggage carousel opposite his booth.

He’s attended briefings on Indian culture, studied how some visitors may use facial expressions and nods of their heads to indicate “yes” or “no” if they don’t speak English, and knows a little about what kinds of food they might be seeking in town.

Gyduska’s going to be an ambassador for the Tampa Bay region and he’s psyched.

“I think this could outdo the Oscars as far as effects go,” Gyduska said, outdoing Visit Tampa Bay’s President and Chief Executive Santiago Corrada — well, almost — in excitement over the 30,000 visitors expected for the gala.

Tampa International Airport personnel are well versed in creating a promising first impression of the region for visitors to special events such as Super Bowls and conventions.

But the Bollywood events will bring a first-time mix to the region of international and U.S. visitors, celebrities and their entourages, and an unknown number and background of fans of the film stars.

It promises to be an event for which no one knows quite what to expect at the airport and beyond, except it’s likely to be fun, given the energy that characterizes the annual event.

“We really have no way of really knowing how many will be at the airport, how many will come out or how many “super fans” there will be,” airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said.

It’s not for a lack of research or preparation. Airport officials contacted their counterparts at Toronto Pearson International Airport, whose city hosted Bollywood in June 2012, for some hints on what to expect.

“They had about 800 fans at the airport every day,” Nipps said. But local organizers are only now getting some details on who to expect and when they might arrive, and those plans appear to change daily.

That hasn’t stopped Tampa International’s marketing department from devising some innovative scenarios to accommodate Bollywood participants and fans. The airport prides itself on throwing parties for everything from inaugural flights to a new destination to inviting bands to provide music and fun on an ordinary Friday evening.

The open-air top floor of the short-term parking garage is being converted into Hollywood Boulevard East. Celebrities will be whisked from the third floor arrivals level to the ninth floor of the parking garage for a Tampa welcome, where fans will be able to line the sides of a green carpet where the celebrities will parade.

From the top of the parking garage, the celebrities can conveniently hop into a limousine for a ride to their downtown hotels.

Most of the arrivals from India will connect at airports in New York and Newark for their flights to Tampa. Where other fans are coming from is not well known.

“We will have to be flexible,” Nipps said. “Some may come in the morning, some late at night. We have to be sure we know who the celebrities are and who we need to look out for.”

The visitors from India are expected to bring plenty of luggage, so special handling is planned to get baggage to hotels.

Student volunteers from the University of South Florida who speak the languages of India have been recruited to help.

Up until the past few days, there was little expectation Bollywood visitors would arrive via charter or corporate jet, but now that’s beginning to change, said David Shaw, of Olympus Limousine.

Just how those who fall short of celebrity status and chartered limousines will get from the airport to their hotels is yet another unknown, although officials believe people who can afford a thousand dollars or more for air fare won’t have trouble springing for a taxi.

“The biggest thing we hope to gain is another way of showing our welcome to this area,” Nipps said. “We want to make a good impression, not just shuttle people through the airport. We want to show how excited we are.

“There will be a lot of the international spotlight on the area for about a week and we are thrilled to be a starting point for that.”

“We are not sure just what to expect, but we do expect the fans will be rabid,” Gyduska said.

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