Spain is encouraging Indian film-makers to use its colourful fiestas and historic monuments as settings for their films in an attempt to grab a bigger share of India’s fast-growing overseas tourism market.
As part of the strategy to lure visitors from the world’s second most populous country, Madrid will also host the annual International Indian Film Academy awards, known as the Bollywood Oscars, next weekend.
Spain is already the third most visited country in the world, but wants to diversify its tourism base beyond the traditional northern European sun-seekers that account for the bulk of its visitors.
Among the Bollywood stars who will attend the awards ceremony in Madrid will be Hrithik Roshan, the star of the 2011 coming-of-age movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which was produced in collaboration with the Spanish tourism promotion agency, Turespaña.
The film about three friends on a pre-marriage road trip across Spain includes scenes at the Tomatina festival in the town of Buñol and the San Fermín bull-running festival in Pamplona.
With scenes also set in Barcelona, Seville and the beaches of the Costa Brava, the film was the first major Indian production to be shot extensively in in Spain. It was also the highest grossing Bollywood film of 2011.
“There was an immediate impact in the number of people requesting entry visas to travel to Spain,” said Enrique Ruiz de Lera, who led the agency’s talks with the producers of the movie.
The year after its release 60,444 Indians visited Spain, nearly double the 2011 figure, according to the industry and tourism ministry. Last year the number had risen to 85,000.
Lonely Planet launched a guide to Spain aimed specifically at the Indian market in 2013 and travel agencies still advertise tours to the locations featured in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
India’s ambassador to Spain, Vikram Misri, said the film “was singlehandedly responsible for making Spain a household name in India and increasing tourism from India”.
Turespaña suggested locations but gave no direct financial aid to cover the cost of making the film, Ruiz de Lera said.
Instead it helped secure permits to film at key sites and negotiate deals on hotel rooms and transport for the crew to lower production costs. “We helped a lot with contacts so filming in Spain was easy,” he said.
In return the producers agreed to include a short advertisement before the start of the film promoting Spain by the award-winning Spanish director Julio Medem.
Spain and India signed a film co-production agreement the year after Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was released.
Turespaña regularly takes part in film location fairs in India to pitch the tax breaks and other incentives available to producers who shoot in Spain.
Since Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, several more Indian films have been shot in Spain though none was as popular at the box office, the director of the Mumbai office of Turespaña, Ignacio Ducasse, said.
They include Dil Dhadakne Do, featuring Anil Kapoor, which was filmed on a ship belonging to Pullmantur, Spain’s biggest cruise operator.
The comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise was released last year and includes scenes shot in Barcelona.
Kapoor, 59, best known internationally for his role in the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, said during a visit to Madrid in March to promote the Bollywood Oscars that he was “looking forward to coming back again and again to Spain”.
Tourism is crucial to the Spanish economy, accounting for around 11% of GDP and one in nine jobs, according to the tourism ministry.
The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts that 50 million Indian tourists a year will travel abroad by 2020, up from 18 million in 2014.