Want to net Indian tourists? Woo Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan. It’s a simple formula that several foreign countries seem to be following to
In a first, Khan has just been signed on by the Korean Tourism Organisation as its cultural ambassador to promote tourism as well as to encourage Indian film-makers to shoot in Korea. With SRK promising to use everything from taekwondo to the Korean countryside for his next home production, Korean Consul General Dong Yern Kim is all smiles: “I am confident that Shah Rukh Khan’s appointment will enhance awareness and interest about Korea among his fans.”
The Bollywood bait has been utilised by countries to promote tourism for a long time now. Invite Bollywood film-makers to shoot, offer them hospitality, incentives and the works, and then watch the movie act as a powerful advertisement for India’s outbound tourist market, which is growing at the second fastest rate in the world.
Even before any concerted efforts were begun to market countries, however, there was Yash Chopra, the man who launched film tourism’s Indian chapter. Chopra regularly used UK and Switzerland as the backdrop for his lavishly mounted, chiffon-saris-in-the-Swiss Alps phantasmagorias, and thanks to him, Indian tourist traffic to Switzerland spiralled by almost 30%. Similarly, after Rakesh Roshan shot Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai in New Zealand, the desi footfall went up manifold—Roshan was even honoured by the New Zealand prime minister for promoting tourism.
Recently, the Singapore Tourism Board invested $6.3 million under its ‘Film in Singapore’ scheme that subsidises international film productions by up to 50%.
Krrish was the first Bollywood film to opt for this scheme, and the annual Indian tourist traffic to Singapore immediately after its release went up from 60 lakh to 70 lakh.
Lately, there’s been a change in the Bollywood list of favourite locales. Switzerland and Dubai are no longer as hot as they used to be—it’s Thailand that tops the list of new favourites, with South Africa a close second.
Others include Mauritius, the US, the UK, Nambia, Canada, Italy, Austria and Sri Lanka. “More and more countries are aggressively wooing Bollywood to shoot their films,” says producer Rajat Rawail. “Israel, Ireland and Poland are the three new players. Then there’s Fiji Islands, whose government is even willing to give producers a payback of 35% of the cost incurred on shooting. All of them have realised that the exposure their countries gets through our films is huge.”
Says Sudhanshu Hukku, director, Locations, a firm that organises destinations for film-makers. “Today the world is taking cognisance of the fact that Indian films do leverage huge tourism. The Indian film industry, the world tourism boards and film commissions need to work together. They need to work out Indian film-specific incentives such as tax rebates, subsidies, air fare support etc, which provide opportunities through in-film branding for tourism.”
Strangely, India has been unable to similarly promote itself through outside films. Although the government has sanctioned nearly 19 international projects to be shot in India, there is still a lot of reluctance because of the red tape involved. Angelina Jolie went back with a bad taste in her mouth after shooting A Mighty Heart.
Udaishankar Pani, who has been the line producer for Gandhi and Salaam Bombay, says, “It is getting extremely difficult to shoot in India because of the red tapism and the number of clearances one has to seek.”