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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
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Editorial: The Bollywood payoff

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The International Indian Film Academy’s awards Tampa will host April 23-26 is expected to attract 30,000 visitors and have an immediate economic impact of $30 million.

But beyond such numbers, the “Bollywood Oscars” could give Tampa a much higher international profile and create future business opportunities.

Local leaders such as Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn correctly want to ensure the community capitalizes on the event.

It’s possible the Bollywood events could have greater long-term impact than the 2012 Republican National Convention, which the city handled impressively and which led to its landing the IIFA spectacle. A University of Tampa study found the convention had an overall $404 million economic impact.

But maximizing the Bollywood return is going to require time and commitment.

Buckhorn puts it well: “I think we need to look at this not as a four-day occurrence but as a multi-decade relationship. This is just the beginning.”

IIFA officials say the event will attract 150 CEOs from India, many of whom will be visiting Tampa for the first time. It also should attract more than 600 Indian business owners from the United States and India.

No business deals are likely to be made during IIFA, but relationships can be forged.

Higginbotham says, “This is about more than hotel nights during the IIFA weekend. We need to follow up with the people we meet and capitalize on their interests.”

The Indian community already contributes significantly to the region’s economy. As Kaushal Chari, associate dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Business, pointed out in a recent Tribune Views commentary, such dominant local companies as Wellcare, Florida Medical Clinic and the HCI Group all have Indian roots.

Indian immigrants are succeeding as entrepreneurs and, as Chari writes, helping to fill “critical skill shortages, particularly in STEM areas.”

Still, Tampa is not particularly well known in India.

The Bollywood awards, which attract 900 million viewers, will highlight Tampa to Indians throughout the world. The Tampa connection already looks to be having an impact.

Higginbotham tells us he was recently recognized by three Indians in the Newark, N.J., airport because they had seen him on TV reports about Bollywood.

To promote business relationships, USF’s College of Business is collaborating with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce on a forum April 24-25 at the Tampa Convention Center, where Indian and American leaders will learn of economic opportunities and obstacles.

Event officials also say the attention the awards show brings Tampa can lead to more tourism.

It’s already put Tampa on the map as a potential location for Bollywood films.

One film — “Saat Hindustani” or “Seven Indians” — about seven Indian students who come to study at the University of South Florida is being planned. The Hillsborough County Commission recently approved a $50,000 incentive for the film.

That would turn out to be a very smart investment should the film result in other Bollywood movies being located here.

Sabbas Joseph of Wizcraft, the event organizer, tells us about 50 percent of Bollywood movies are filmed abroad, and many Indian families like to visit the sites of popular films.

Thus, cultivating the Indian movie industry could not only generate film-related jobs but also drive tourism.

Of course, none of this will happen overnight, and no one should expect IIFA to suddenly ignite the economy. As Buckhorn says, “This offers a major introduction of Tampa to India, but it can’t stop there. We’ve have got to build on what this starts.”

With foresight and commitment, the Bollywood awards could lead to additional foreign investment, tourism, international flights and trade.

But as Higginbotham bluntly says, “It’s up to us.”

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