TAMPA — The "Bollywood Oscars" are less than three months away and organizers have been hitting the publicity tour hard to promote the glitzy, international-star studded event.
But Hillsborough County's top tourism official said so far they've been promoting the International Indian Film Academy's 15th annual Weekend & Awards show on the cheap — or on "fumes," as he put it.
"We've been marketing it," said Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the county's public-private tourism agency, "but without the money."
But not anymore.
This week Hillsborough County committed to spending $1 million in tax dollars to help market and support the event — and to sell the area as a tourist destination that Bollywood fans will want to come back to visit.
The Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council voted unanimously Thursday to release $900,000 in reserve tourist development taxes to Visit Tampa Bay for the April 24-26 IIFA weekend. The tax is a 5 percent surcharge on hotel rooms and other short-term accommodations that pays for tourism marketing, the Tampa Convention Center and other venues.
The Hillsborough County Commission also voted unanimously on Wednesday to give the tourism agency $100,000 to promote the show. Commissioner Al Higginbotham made the proposal and Commissioner Kevin Beckner added a stipulation that they get an accounting of how the money will be spent to brand Hillsborough County — and not just the city of Tampa.
Corrada said the marketing plan always counted on using tourist tax reserves. His agency gets a share every year. But the agency didn't ask for its $360,000 portion of the surplus in 2012, before Corrada came aboard. The agency's cut of the 2013 reserves was $540,000.
Visit Tampa Bay got the surplus from both years on Thursday with little debate from the tourist council, a mix of public and private officials who oversee the county's tourism efforts and funding. The council includes Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura.
Local officials have done plenty of rounds with local, national and international news and other media to promote the event. The IIFA has been bringing to Tampa members of the international entertainment media that cover Bollywood and also has been promoting the event overseas.
But now Visit Tampa Bay will start marketing to Bollywood fans in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain using radio, digital media and other advertising.
The money also will be used to pay for private security for the stars and producers of the show, as well as their accommodations and transportation. And some of it will go to reimburse Visit Tampa Bay for work it has already done to promote the awards show.
Sharpe, who has focused on local transportation issues, wants officials to report back with more detailed plans for moving Bollywood fans around town. Two of Tampa's main highways, Interstate 275 and the Veterans Expressway, are both undergoing major reconstruction.
"If I come here and it's convoluted, crowded and overly expensive," Sharpe said, "I'm not coming back."
Visit Tampa Bay will spend some of the money after the event. Tourism officials want to take advantage of their turn in the international spotlight by marketing the area as a tourist destination in India and the rest of South and Southeast Asia.
"We expect to have a presence in India well after the event," Corrada said.
The Bollywood Oscars are more than just an award show. It also honors Indian culture, fashion and film. The big event will be held April 25, when the IIFA unfurls its trademark green carpet for the awards show at Raymond James Stadium.
The show will be watched by up to 800 million viewers around the world.
Staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.