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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
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Bollywood effects not going according to script

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TAMPA — With a who’s who of Indian film slated to appear, a near sellout of 25,000 tickets, and a history of annual extravaganzas, the International Indian Film Academy’s 15th “Bollywood Oscars” promises to be every bit the international spectacle its promoters are touting.

But with the event just three weeks away, some planned events have been canceled, businesses originally partnering in the project have left, and hotel bookings haven’t matched the hype yet — raising questions about whether the event will also approach the $30 million in direct economic impact projected for the Tampa area.

The Hilton Tampa Downtown, official host hotel of Indian film academy and its celebrity guests, did not respond to inquiries but its online reservation system indicates all 520 of its rooms are booked. The same is true at the nearby Marriott Waterside with its 683 rooms.

Other hotels, though, downtown and near the awards ceremony site at Raymond James Stadium, say they aren’t seeing evidence yet of the 30,000 visitors expected to descend on Tampa.

“It has been slower than we anticipated,” said Darlene McCann, director of sales and marketing for the InterContinental Tampa hotel at Kennedy and West Shore boulevards. “With the RNC and the Super Bowl, we were booked far in advance.”

Hotel bookings have indeed been sparse but this was to be expected, said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association. Morrison said he was informed soon after Tampa landed the awards that Indians generally book their hotel rooms late.

“That has been the history across the world at the other 14 ceremonies,” Morrison said. “The rooms are booked three or four weeks in advance.”

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The InterContinental did experience a “slight uptick” in room bookings in recent days, McCann said, and she is “cautiously optimistic” that it will improve.

Eric Odum, past president of the Gasparilla Film Festival and a commercial real estate broker, said friends and clients of Indian descent have told him they’ll be putting up visitors at their homes rather than hotels.

Tampa’s Indian community numbers about 35,000.

But Odum said hotel bookings aren’t the only measure of economic impact.

“We have some of the most successful Indians in the world coming to Tampa,” he said. “We should not be concerned with where they are staying that weekend but instead ... convincing them to maintain a presence here.”

According to an online tutorial on Indian culture produced by Visit Tampa Bay, 10 percent of all Indians living in the United States are millionaires.

As part of the weekend of events in Tampa, a Global Business Forum will be held and has been advertised to include 120 CEOs. Attendees include Narayana Murthy, co-founder of India information technology giant Infosys, and Raj Biyani, head of India operations for Microsoft IT.

Some local businesses, on the other hand, signed on for the project only to leave later, including video communication company AVI-SPL, which sent an executive with the Tampa delegation that traveled to last year’s Bollywood awards in Macau,.

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The executive, Jason Atwell, is a former company vice president. He would not discuss why he left the company or why the company left the project.

CEO John Zettel told the Tribune through a spokesperson, “Unfortunately, AVI-SPL and the appropriate parties were unable to reach an agreement in regards to our participation with the event.”

Atwell said a number of “buzz events” leading up to the awards weekend were planned by the original Bollywood awards host committee but were canceled. That left some businesses holding the bag on deposits they had made.

These events were to include community days and free concerts focusing on Indian culture. Each was to be organized by local companies.

One business that said it lost thousands of dollars was GRE Worldwide, a Tampa-based courier and labor company. In an email to the Tribune, GRE director of operations Richard Vollrath blamed “last minute cancellations dealing with the Bollywood host committee and unpaid cancellation fees.”

Vollrath said he has unsuccessfully reached out to leaders of the original host committee, entrepreneur Chetan Shah and philanthropist Kiran Patel, but they did not respond to requests for reimbursement. He said he has turned the matter over to a lawyer.

Vollrath said he knows of three other companies that suffered Bollywood losses. He did not answer an email question about whether contracts had been signed.

Patel did not return calls from the Tribune.

In June 2013, a company called Go Bollywood Tampa Bay Florida Convention was formed with Shah and Patel as officers, according to business records filed with the state.

A second honorary host committee was formed in February called “Friends of IIFA” and includes a diverse number of leaders from throughout Tampa who will serve as ambassadors when Bollywood arrives.

“It seems like the original host committee bit off more than they could chew financially,” Atwell said.

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Santiago Corrada, CEO and president of the tourist development agency Visit Tampa Bay, gives a different account, saying generosity from the private sector — guided by Patel — enabled Tampa to land the coveted Bollywood awards while spending far less than previous hosts.

For example, the government of Ontario spent $12 million on the Indian film academy awards when they were held in Toronto in 2011. Most of the money went to Wizcraft, which created the awards event and is its main producer.

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Hillsborough County has spent only $1 million and the state of Florida $700,000, using the money to market the area as a tourist destination to likely awards attendees.

The city of Tampa is contributing in-kind services. Sonya Little, Tampa’s chief financial officer, said negotiations still are under way but this typically includes waiving certain convention center and park rental fees.

Most of the money paid to Wizcraft here has come from the private sector, Corrada said. It goes toward event venues and hotel and travel accommodations for dignitaries, many of whom will be traveling from India.

Corrada did not have a dollar figure but called the weekend overall a “multimillion-dollar production.”

According to the Indian film academy contract with Raymond James Stadium, renting the complex will cost $657,700 not counting added expenditures such as parking, power and additional security.

And that’s just one venue.

The business forum is at the Tampa Convention Center, the technical awards at the Mid-Florida Amphitheatre and the IIFA Stomp, a Bollywood dance music festival open to the public, is at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Proceeds from concession sales at the stomp will benefit the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the academy’s way of giving back to the local film community.

Regardless of short term financial impact, Corrada is confident that Tampa will reap the benefits of the Bollywood Oscars for years to come.

A business and tourist relationship with India will have been established, he said,

“We’ll get it done,” he said. “It will be great.”

 

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7606

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