TAMPA - The International Indian Film Academy awards ceremony is expected to draw 30,000 visitors to the Tampa area next June and create $100 million in economic impact.
But perhaps more important will be the economic ripple effect from the event commonly known as the Bollywood Oscars. Tourism and industry officials, at a news conference Monday, said it's hard to overestimate the economic benefits of opening doors to business and tourism for the world's second-most populous country.
"This is really a time for Tampa to establish its rightful place among international destinations," said Santiago Corrada, executive director of the tourism group Visit Tampa Bay. "We have the assets here, we have the community here, we can put on big events and we need to start drawing that attention."
Last year, Tampa hosted the Republican National Convention, its first national political convention, and the city has hosted several Super Bowls. But the area has not been a significant player on the world entertainment stage - until now.
"As far as an international footprint, we just had a foot ready to put down someplace," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who was part of the local delegation to this year's International Indian Film Academy festival during the July 4th weekend on the Chinese island of Macau.
The four-day event attracts 800 million television viewers, which will put the Tampa area on perhaps its grandest stage ever.
And among 32 planned events that are part of the festival is a business symposium where local business leaders can talk to potential trade partners.
"Our ports do some business with India with fertilizer, but we can have some other opportunities to discuss trade with the India business community," said Visit Tampa Bay board member James Ransom, who made the trip to Macau. Ransom said he was an early advocate of furthering the tourist agency's outreach to multi-ethnic organizations.
Another delegation member, Deborah Wilkinson, called the International Indian Film Academy's choice of Tampa for its 2014 awards ceremony a "game changer" as far as spurring international trade.
"And that is something that is needed because that's something that's not been targeted yet in this area," said Wilkinson, executive director of the Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council.
"It now puts us in front of those CEOs over in India," Wilkinson said, "and how we can bring them to do business in Tampa - with our airport, with our port, our colleges, our tourism board and with our chamber (of commerce)."
Landing the Bollywood Awards was a major coup for Visit Tampa Bay and was accomplished through what Higginbotham called a "brutal excursion" half way around the world. The 16-member delegation, which included some prominent figures in Hillsborough's Indian-American community, flew 29 hours, landing at about 11 p.m. Macau time.
Higginbotham said the group held a meeting as soon as it arrived at the hotel and he didn't get back to his room until after 3 a.m. The first meetings the next day started at 7:30 a.m. The group met with International Indian Film Academy officials starting at noon and they reached an agreement by 6:30 p.m.
Much of the negotiations centered on logistics, such as how many venues could be dedicated to the event. But what cemented Tampa as the choice, Higginbotham said, was the academy's appreciation of the local delegation's efforts.
"As undynamic as it sounds, we said we as a community had a lot to offer and we really wanted them and we would travel half way around the world on a national holiday to personally deliver that message," Higginbotham said. "There was a genuine meaning in personally delivering a message like this."
One of the guiding forces behind the Indian-American community's efforts to land the Bollywood Oscars was Tampa businessman Chetan "Jason" R. Shah. He and Higginbotham met six years ago at an Indian-American festival, where Shah and other Indians told the commissioner they needed some fields dedicated to cricket. Higginbotham later was able to secure a county appropriation for the fields.
In February or March, Shah came to Higginbotham and told him a group of Indian-Americans was trying to get the International Indian Film Academy to come to the Tampa Bay area. The group included Hiren Jain, chief executive officer of 7M Tours, who had tried unsuccessfully to get Orlando to make a bid for the IIFA.
Higginbotham advised Shah on how the group could raise the needed funds to make the bid and then hooked the group up with Visit Tampa Bay. The money for the trip to Macau was all raised privately with no government contributions.
Shah said that since the announcement was made that the Bollywood event was coming to Tampa, he has received thousands of e-mails from around the world.
"This is a major, major attraction that's going to boost the economy like anything."