TAMPA — For the Tampa Bay area and the Bollywood film awards, word of mouth can be great advertising, especially when A-list movie stars are doing the talking.
"It's really gratifying to hear how these major stars are selling Tampa Bay," Visit Tampa Bay president Santiago Corrada said Thursday, a day after returning from a media blitz of India.
For Corrada, Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, it was a short, intense trip: Leave Saturday. Return Wednesday. One part business in Mumbai. Two parts sitting on airplanes.
On the ground, the Tampa delegation did interviews with Indian travel magazines, met with business leaders and joined some of Bollywood's best-known talent for a news conference on the lawn of the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai.
One of those stars was Madhuri Dixit-Nene, who knows Tampa from living in Gainesville for two years.
"I can assure you everyone who comes there is going to have such a good time," she told Indian journalists. "Not only because it's a beautiful city, has a lot to offer (and) has a lot of culture, but also the people there are warm and welcoming."
That message will continue. On Thursday, bay area officials unveiled a television commercial promoting Tampa Bay and the 15th annual International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards on April 24-26.
Filmed in January, the TV spot features former Miss World Priyanka Chopra touring Tampa by boat and Anil Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire having a glass of sangria and a Cuban sandwich at the bar of the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
"Discover many, many more views like this and the spectacular hospitality of Tampa Bay," Chopra says, gesturing toward the Tampa skyline.
Plans are still in the works, but the commercial is expected to run in major English-speaking media markets. Corrada said the budget is likely to be in the "several hundred thousand dollar range." Visit Tampa Bay recently got $1 million from Hillsborough County and its tourist tax revenues to market the event to Bollywood fans in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
Officials said fans so far have bought nearly 20,000 of about 25,000 tickets for the awards show — often called the "Bollywood Oscars" — which will be televised around the world from Raymond James Stadium on April 26.
Buckhorn wasn't at the post-trip news conference Thursday in Tampa. Instead, the morning after returning from India, he hopped on a plane to Tallahassee to lobby Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators.
"I was flying longer than I was in India," Buckhorn said of his overseas trip.
The change of scenery was stark. Instead of being surrounded by Bollywood's glitz and glamor, he spent Thursday meeting with Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who is slated to be speaker in 2015-2016, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Buckhorn also joined mayors Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale, Carlos Hernandez of Hialeah and Buddy Dyer of Orlando, who are part of the seven-mayor Florida Urban Partnership. This year, the mayors' legislative agenda is about as vague as they come: tax reform, local revenue sources, unfunded state mandates, water, film and TV incentives, homelessness.
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Buckhorn said Tampa's top priority will be getting lawmakers to approve allowing cities to vote for a sales tax referendum that could pay for transit or other services. Currently, sales tax referendums can only be approved countywide. In 2010, a sales tax that would have funded light rail won precincts in Tampa, but failed in the suburbs and rural areas of Hillsborough County.
Buckhorn sort of pushed for it last year, and it died. He said he'll push it again this year, but there's still no bill yet for it. With a staunchly conservative Legislature, chances are slim he'll find any support for it, even from the Tampa Bay area's own delegation.
"We'll continue to push it in this session," he said. "We recognize it's an uphill struggle."