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Camera, location, promotion

Films, television shows and serials and web series and the likes are the biggest influencer today. India produces the highest number of films in the world and Indian appetite for a good story is legendary, from movies in cinema halls to never ending television serials or through the next generation internet platforms, we lap it all. And with tourism boards, states or national, forever looking at newer ways to reach out to large Indian audience to showcase their destination, films, TV shows and serials as well as web series etc. have emerged platforms that can provide tremendous visibility in a very short span of time.

Switzerland and the UK are probably the top countries that come to mind when we think of Bollywood’s role in promoting destinations. There are road and streets, even train coaches, named after Bollywood personalities in these countries. And while the two countries continue to be hot with Bollywood film makers, their relative dominance in attracting Bollywood has been challenged with many new countries in competition now.

Tourism promotion videos done by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Bulgaria while they were shooting for ‘Dilwale’ a few years ago generated millions of viewership contributing to the huge destination visibility in the Indian market. ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain and Tomatino Festival a household name in India.

SATTE 2020 brought together top Indian and International tourism industry professionals to discuss and understand the impact of cinema and shows through an engrossing panel discussion titled ‘Small Screen, Big Impact.’ Moderated by Rajan Sehgal, Co- Founder, Passionals and a Film Tourism Expert, the panelists in the discussion included Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board and Secretary Tourism, Govt of Madhya Pradesh; Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority; Elisa Robles Fraga, Director, Tourism Office of Spain in Mumbai, India; G.B Srithar, Regional Director, South Asia & Middle East, Singapore Tourism Board and Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism.

What the NTOs doing?

Indian travellers love to follow in the footsteps of their cine idols, or destinations featured on their favourite shows, from television to web series on the internet. About 20 years ago, Sehagal discovered a large group from Sikar, a sleepy small town in Rajasthan, exploring Interlaken and other destinations in Switzerland following in the footsteps of a Govinda-Karisma Kapoor starrer movie that was shot in the area.

South Africa is attributing attracting Bollywood to the country one of its top priorities. Close on the heels of an impressive showcase at SATTE 2020 early last month, the South African Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was in India the following week on a two-day tourism roadshow in Mumbai, meeting Bollywood producers and film makers along with travel trade and others. Nkani says that today Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood and others have imploded in South Africa, whereas places like Sun City and Cape Town have become some of the most visited destinations by Indians because of Bollywood.

STB’s Srithar says that it is important for Singapore to establish the ‘emotional connect’ with the source markets and movies, TV shows and serials and web series are the perfect way of communicating that connect. “When we were working with the Dharma Production on ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya’, we were very clear that we need to make Singapore look good and bring it closer to the hearts and minds of Indian travellers. Singapore must have an ‘emotion connect’ because tourism is all about emotional connect. Nobody visits a city because they have seen a photograph of a particular architecture,” he argues.

Bundhun says that Mauritius is not just a sun and sand destination, but a melting cauldron of culture, religion, ethnicity, gastronomy. “Besides the pristine beaches and turquoise water, we have the insides of Mauritius which are great and that’s one of the reasons which triggered us to contemplate of inviting a number of production houses last year from India to come and visit the country. We have a sort of educational tour of major production houses from India and that is slowly reaping the fruit of success,” he says. Holiday, a Indian web series, is currently being shot in the island nation. 

Impact

There are more than 75 movies that have been shot in the state of Madhya Pradesh and a greater number of film makers are zeroing in on the state for filming. ‘Stree’, a 2018 release and a major commercial success starring Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao shot in Madhya Pradesh, gives an eye-opening example on film’s impact on the destination.

“Stree was shot in this small sleepy little town that had annual tourist visit of 2,000. It shot up to 50,000 that year and has crossed more than 80,000 last year. So much so that it is very difficult for the infrastructure to cope up with such arrivals. But that’s what it has done to a small town. It has changed the economy, Kidwai informs. The state is today attracting production houses from Hollywood as well. A Hollywood production house is shooting a series on Gregory David Roberts’ acclaimed novel ‘Shantaram’ in the capital Bhopal.

Mauritius tryst with Indian cinema started way back in the 1970s. However, it was the 80s Rajesh Khanna’s starrer blockbuster ‘Soutan’ that first popularised Mauritius in India. “Film tourism has had catalytic effect on the development of tourism in Mauritius and especially from Bollywood. Ever since ‘Soutan’ was shot we have seen the numbers growing because we have got a lot of web series and the likes being shot in Mauritius. Today MTPA, in collaboration with Economic Development Board in Mauritius, is promoting Mauritius as a film destination. Actually, Mauritius embarked on the scheme around two years back and last year we had the pleasure of hosting totally integral film shot in Mauritius from Hollywood which was called ‘Serenity,’” says Bundhun.

Similarly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a turning point, says Elisa. It was shot all over Spain, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Andalusia, Seville and many more locations with top Bollywood actors. “It is clear that film shooting in any destination has an impact on to tourism. Tourism from India increased a lot. We also have TV shows and their impact is also increasing. ‘Game of Thrones’ that was shot in Spain and other parts of Europe have influenced and increased tourism to these countries the television show was shot in. The impact of shooting films, TV shows or any kind of shows for internet is very good for our business.

Singapore receives over 1.5 million Indian visitors annually and Srithar admits that Bollywood and Tollywood movies have contributed to the success of Singapore emerging a key destination with the Indian travelers. It all started with 1960 Shammi Kapoor hit movie titled ‘Singapore.’ “Since then Bollywood movies have been a very important way for us to communicate with the Indian audience. Movies, films, TV series have given a lot of visitation to Singapore and making India the third largest source market for Singapore today.”

Attracting filmmakers

Citing his interaction with Yashraj Films’ President Ashish Singh at a Film Tourism Conclave last year, Sehgal suggested that Indian states need to actively engage with production houses. He said that State Tourism Boards should ask for small video clips from the lead actors on and about the destination and its tourism attractiveness and also things like opening scene of the movie showing the destination, in exchange of the various shooting related facilitation and incentives that the states offer.

Kidwai highlights three key points. “Filmmakers require is ease of clearances as they don’t want to waste time in too much of red tape because it costs them a lot. Second is scenic locations with lots of history, culture, architecture, heritage and wildlife and the third is least interference during the shoot.”

He further informs that the state is developing a comprehensive policy that provides subsidy linked incentives, ease of permission, discounts at shooting locations and part reimbursement of the cost that filmmakers incur. “What we believe in is that a film is not only a film for the audience but has a big benefit for the local economy not only in terms of revenue but also consequently when any destination is popularized and thereby helping develop long term economy in the area”

‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain a household name in India. The NTO is keen to enhance Spain’s attractiveness amongst the film making community further. “We have lots of plans. For us, India is a dream of its kind and collaborating with Bollywood is very important. We are taking initiatives to make it easy and attractive for Bollywood to shoot in the country,” says Elisa. She informs that not only Tourism office of Spain offers various assistance related to visa, negotiation of deals with hotels and transports and tax incentives but also there is a network of film commissions all over Spain, national and regional level, to help producers and filmmakers with locations, film shoots, permissions and more.

South Africa is also wooing Indian film makers in several ways. “We turn visa in three days for production houses which otherwise normally takes seven days. The most important thing for us is eliminating bureaucracy. Nobody wants to go to a country where it will take you 30 to 40 days to do visa. Second, we provide one-point access for film permits. Our accommodations are next to none. A four-star hotel in South Africa is a five star of Europe. Our infrastructure and road are phenomenal, better than some of the first world countries. There is ease of access into our country, ease of accessing locations, ease of accessing decision makers, ease of accessing production houses, we come in and we facilitate the suppliers,” Nkani informs.

Nkani is keen to give Indian filmmakers first-hand experience of destination and is planning to host producers later this year. And why so? “Seeing is believing. I cannot sell something to somebody if they do not know. You got to know my country. You are going to fall in love with my country. And I know that in 18 months from the time we have shown South Africa and made sure that those who are in this industry get a sense, smell and the feel of South Africa, the next big movie will be done in South Africa. Our priority this year is to host film producers from India,” she said.

We want to make it all easy, says Srithar. “No production house goes to a country unless the story demands it. And then a production house goes to a country because it is easy to make a movie in that country. In Singapore, we have always been very supportive of Indian movies. STB is a one stop center for facilitating movies and it is not always about financial perks, it is also about making it easy.

Furthermore, Singapore has also put up a scheme where 20 million Singaporean Dollar grant have been set aside for any collaboration where a foreign production house collaborates with a Singapore production house.

So how is subsidy structured by Indian states? Kidwai says by and large there are a couple of ways that the states have structured their incentives and subsidies to attract producers and filmmakers. “States require the filmmakers to shoot a certain percentage of the film in the state. It doesn’t matter how big or small the budget is. If you have shot, let’s say, 50 per cent of your film in the state you are entitled to the subsidy and if you have shot more than 50 per cent there is a higher subsidy that you are entitled to,” he says.

Furthermore, he informs that Madhya Pradesh has added another provision in its policy that state tourism department is bringing out. Even if you have shot less than 50 per cent of the film in the state, but you are giving us a certain percentage of the screen time, let’s say about 10 per cent of the screen time, then again you are entitled to the same kind of help and subsidy. It doesn’t matter what the film’s budget is. Along with films, we have included web series, TV serials etc. also,” Kidwai informed.

Content for phones

Sehgal suggests that whenever a film is shot at a destination, Indian or international, tourism boards should request for small two-three minute clips about the destination by lead actors, who are followed by millions of fans through various social media platforms, mostly through mobile phones. These contents are viewed by millions of people and help create enhanced visibility and promotion of tourism.

Srithar also draws attention to internet-based platforms. “A lot of content today is consumed on the mobile phones. India todays is probably a market which is mobile first and then everything else. So, web series, OTT platform, TV series are all very important and all of these help bring any destination closer to Indian travelers because video consumption is very high. It is super high on mobile platform and OTT platform is getting a lot of traction in the market.”

In agreement with Srithar, Elisa added that mobile platform is becoming more and more important be it watching HBO, Netflix or programmes such as Games of Throne or others and is an opportunity to take advantage of.

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