TAMPA — Tourism officials are trying to land an event they say would put the region on the international map like perhaps nothing they've held before: a spectacle often called the "Bollywood Oscars."
They will join a contingent that includes private supporters from Tampa Bay's Indian community and Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham who will travel to Asia next week to make their pitch.
Their destination: Macau, a gaming and tourist resort that is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. There they will meet with representatives of the International Indian Film Academy and take in its 2013 awards show, which is held in a different country each year but has never been to the United States.
Backers compare the tourism-driving potential of landing the IIFA Awards ceremony to holding a Super Bowl or even a national political convention. Tampa has done both in recent years, so tourism officials believe they have the street cred to pull off another major extravaganza.
The IIFA Awards span four days, would be preceded by dozens of other parties and gatherings in Tampa Bay and other parts of the country in the preceding months, and could draw thousands of international visitors.
"This is an important trip for us," said Hillsborough County tourism chief Santiago Corrada, who is traveling Tuesday with 17 others to Macau for the five-day jaunt. "It's a big deal. It does for us internationally what the Republican National Convention did nationally."
Tampa's bid would compete against several others. Published reports have cited Melbourne, Australia; Dubai; and Abu Dhabi as other potential suitors. Unlike the Super Bowl or RNC, the IIFA awards would face a much tighter time window to organize and plan in time to be held next summer.
"This is a very ambitious project," said Dr. Kiran Patel, the cardiologist, philanthropist and insurance entrepreneur who is among the effort's backers. "But I think one has to dream big, think big and act big to do something different."
Supporters of the initiative are not saying so far how much if any taxpayer support they would seek in order to lure the awards ceremony and related events. They say they intend to raise most of the costs through private donations, from Tampa Bay's increasingly active Indian-American community and elsewhere.
The cost of the Macau trip is being paid through private donations, with those participating returning July 7, a day after catching the main event.
However, IIFA likes to see some government support to demonstrate the event is welcomed by the broader community, said Chetan Shah, a Lutz real estate agent and native of India who has led the effort.
Shah said he learned of the award show's potential availability through a friend in Orlando. He reached out to IIFA and to Higginbotham, who had previously helped Indian community members find park space for cricket matches and has actively courted international business opportunities for Hillsborough.
Higginbotham referred Shah to Visit Tampa Bay, the county's main tourism agency, which in turn referred him to Visit Florida. For the past seven months, Shah has been sketching out events, logistics and a pitch. The IIFA has at least twice sent representatives to Tampa to tour venues and ask questions.
"From a global standpoint, it's very significant for Hillsborough County," Higginbotham said. "It'll bring more awareness to the movie industry, especially India's, about Tampa Bay being a place to film movies."
Next year would be the 15th annual IIFA awards ceremony. Previous host cities have included London, Johannesburg, Toronto, Amsterdam and Bangkok.
This year's event is being held in one resort. In Tampa, events would be held throughout Tampa Bay and use most of its entertainment venues, Shah said. The show would attract thousands of visitors from India, including hundreds of Bollywood stars, not to mention thousands more Indian natives or descendents from across North America.
"This might be bigger than the Super Bowl," Shah said. "It is a huge event we are trying to bring."
State tourism officials say it would allow them to market a part of Florida that might not be on the radar of a growing segment of potential visitors. The awards presentation is seen by more than 800 million people in dozens of countries, according to promotional materials.
"We think this will do even more to bring Indian visitors especially to Florida in the future," said Kathy Torian, corporate communications manager for Visit Florida, which is sending a representative. "It's an emerging market for Florida, that's most certain."
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.