The IIFA effect: Tampa Bay hopes for more Indian tourists

The IIFA effect: Tampa Bay hopes for more Indian tourists
The IIFA weekend will commence from April 23-26
A 30 percent rise in tourists from India is what Tampa Bay, the host of the 15th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Weekend and Awards in April, expects this year, an official said.

Tampa Bay is the first city in the US to host the Weekend, which has earlier traversed to destinations such as Sun City, Macau, Singapore, Toronto, Amsterdam, Colombo and Johannesburg.

Come April, Bollywood glamour and glitterati will light up the picturesque city, which is waiting to welcome fans and tourists from across the globe.

"We're expecting now to be recognised in India and across other parts of the world as the 'City that hosted the IIFA' among the many great cities over the last 14 years," Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, told IANS in an interview here.

The city expects to attract over 30,000 visitors during the IIFA Weekend April 23-26, but Corrado is confident of "a spike in tourism" in the year after the extravaganza.

"We would be happy with an increase of 30 percent in our tourism from India. It has been that high and higher in other cities in the world. I believe it was around 35 percent in Singapore.

"I want fans of Indian cinema to say: 'IIFA was in Tampa, now I want to go to Tampa. I want to experience what my idols experienced, I want to go to the beaches, the venues, dine where they dined'.

"We also want more people to visit us from other parts of the world as a result of the IIFA," he said.

From the restaurants to hotels and the venues to the people - the buzz for IIFA seems to be warming up here.

The event celebrates the magic of Hindi cinema with dance, music, seminars, film premieres, parties and master classes. Some of the top stars travel to the chosen international destination every year and they not just get to walk down the red carpet and perform, but also mingle with their fans.

What's interesting is that Bollywood is as new to Tampa Bay as Tampa Bay will be for Bollywood. Yet, people are putting together all forces, literally, to facilitate a well-organised and memorable show.

There are no cinema halls that play Hindi films here, but Corrado says Tampa Bay's "large Indian community has done a good job of bridging the cultural difference".

Which is also why the main IIFA awards night April 26, when leading Bollywood stars will take to stage at the spacious Raymond James Stadium, is likely to be a sell-out. The tickets for the culminating night, mind you, start anything between $75 and $3,000 per person.

The city's wonderful venues - the scenic Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, University of South Florida's state-of-the-art Sun Dome, the one-of-a-kind MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre and the Raymond James Stadium, have been reserved for each large scale event of the four-day weekend.

That IIFA is a "powerful brand" was something Corrado knew, he told IANS during a chat amid the bright red seats at the breezy Raymond James Stadium. "We knew that it would expose us not just to India, but to the rest of the world. For us, that was key," he said. The event's organiser, Wizcraft International Entertainment, is also getting the support of the government here.

"We've had great government support as far as providing in-kind aid is concerned. In terms of money, they have helped to offset some costs. We have all forces behind to make it the best IIFA ever," Corrado said.
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