Spain's Starring Role in Bollywood Movie a Boon to Tourism

Indian Film Industry Succeeds in Its First Attempt at What's Essentially a Brochure in the Form of Cinema

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In the hit 2011 Bollywood road-trip movie "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" -- roughly translated as "You Only Live Once" -- the lead characters are inspired by a crooning Spanish flamenco singer to suddenly break into a choreographed song and dance.

This isn't unique in Indian cinema. But what makes the scene singular is that the idea of including flamenco didn't come from the film's writers or director, but the Spanish tourism authority Turespana.

It was a first for the Indian film industry and its passionate fans: branded entertainment in the form of a blockbuster film that essentially serves as a feature-length tourism advertisement. "The movie itself was almost like an entire brochure for Spain," said Madhu Saliankar, market analyst in Turespana's Mumbai office.

The film finds the three buddies skydiving in Seville, scuba diving in Costa Brava, running with the bulls in Pamplona and getting dirty at the La Tomatina tomato-throwing festival in Bunol. They stay in a private villa as well as a standard hotel, something Turespana pushed to showcase the country as a destination for both high-end and midlevel travelers.

In the run-up to the film's release, Turespana spent more than $660,000 on marketing, including airing two 30-second ads from its global agency, McCann Erickson, that were clips from the film and ended with the Turespana logo. The tourism board didn't finance the $11 million film, but contributed on-the-ground support and other subsidies worth another $660,000.

Bollywood has always functioned, to some extent, as a brochure for exotic locales -- especially Switzerland, which grew to prominence as a filming location in the 1960s when unrest in the disputed Indian state of Kashmir made filming mountaintop dance numbers on the subcontinent impossible.

Millions of Indians have flocked to Swiss locations where famous Bollywood scenes were filmed, so much so that a cart serving Indian fare sits at the base of Mount Titlis.

But never before has so holistic and concerted an effort been made on the part of a country's tourism authority and an Indian filmmaker to fully integrate the marketing of a destination into the production, plot and promotion of a major movie.

"Destinations have always promoted themselves, different countries have given tax breaks to Bollywood in the hopes of building awareness, but to build a successful marketing campaign around it like that was something new," said Jehil Thakkar, head of the entertainment and media division at KPMG.

"People talk about "in-movie advertising'," he added. "In this case, the whole fricking movie was "in-movie advertising!'"

And it worked. The film was released on July 15, 2011, and by August, visa applications had doubled at Spain's embassy and consulates in India. Spanish authorities now receive as many as 2,500 visa applications a month, up from 700 or 800 before the film's release. The number of Indian tourists to Spain jumped 65% to more than 115,000 in 2011, compared with 75,000 the previous year.

"They may have heard of Barcelona -- but probably some wouldn't even know it was in Spain. It was that bad," Ms. Saliankar said. "When the whole world saw [the movie], our efforts -- which we were doing at a very small scale -- just skyrocketed."

Countries including the U.K., South Africa, Ireland and the Czech Republic offer subsidies to Bollywood producers, and most see increased tourism from India in the wake of a film's release.

For Spain, it was a no-brainer. "It's a large canvas -- it's the best way to showcase a destination, and India is Bollywood-crazy, so what they see on a large canvas remains in their memory for a long time," Ms. Saliankar said.

But that doesn't mean every project works. Turespana has had to respectfully pass on some scripts lately. "We've been getting a lot of storylines with plots about all these gangsters," she said, "where Spain becomes a mafia hub."

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