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New Movie Might Hurt Local Tourism

"Piranha 3D" could take a bite out of Lake Havasu tourism

Amy Kaufman  Aug 20, 2010

“Piranha 3D,” out Friday, is set on “Lake Victoria” – a fictional popular tourist destination where spring breakers find themselves attacked by vicious fish. But city officials in the region where the film was shot, Lake Havasu -- which borders Arizona and California – are fearful that moviegoers might recognize the vacation spot in the horror film and be led to believe piranhas actually exist in local waters.

At least that was the sentiment conveyed by the city's publicist, Jeff Blumenfeld, who called us somewhat frantically Wednesday morning to express concern over the movie.

“We’re gritting our teeth -- we’re just hoping that the reaction is a good one for the city,” he said.

While it might seem preposterous that tourists could truly believe that there are piranhas swimming around Lake Havasu, some local hotel owners say they've already encountered a few nervous patrons.

“One woman was bringing up to me that the movie was coming out, and she asked – as serious as serious can be – ‘Oh, but are there still piranha in the lake?’ ” recalled Cal Sheehy, general manager of the London Bridge Resort, which is right on Lake Havasu. “At first, I kind of took it as a joke. But then I let her know that that’s the computer-generated part of the movie. And she was very relieved, saying, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to hear that.’ ”

Vern Porter, of the Nautical Beachfront Resort, has been joking with his guests that he “hopes they took all of the piranhas out when they finished the movie,” but can’t imagine anyone would take the threat of killer fish seriously.

Still, city spokesman Blumenfeld thinks that anyone who sees "Piranha 3D" could easily make a correlation between the lake in the movie and Havasu.

"It's Arizona's worst-kept secret," he said. "If you Google Lake Havasu, 'piranha' shows up. And people can easily recognize Havasu in the movie -- they've got some of our big spots, like the Bridgewater Channel. When you look at the scenery, it's pretty distinctive -- that kind of desert, water, mountains."

That's not to say Havasu is getting too worked up about the negative effect the film could have on the area. Blumenfeld admits the movie will likely have a more positive impact than anything -- it brought $18 million in during production, and some residents were even cast as extras in the film. There's also a local premiere being held Friday, where clothing and props from the movie will be auctioned off to benefit a nearby sports park.

"We're not quaking in our boots," said Blumenfeld. "We just hope the movie opens up to the scenery beyond the blood in the water."

As for the most dangerous creatures actually residing in the murky depths of Lake Havasu?

“You do have to watch out for drunken boaters," he said. "We don’t have sharks. The blue fish won’t bite you. And we haven’t see any piranha.”

"Piranha 3D" could take a bite out of Lake Havasu tourism
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