Priyanka Saxena Ray
2023 – The Recovery Year
From our point of view, 2023 was still a recovery year but I am glad to share that from the Indian market, it has been our most successful recovery. Our all-other target markets are atleast 10% down on 2019 numbers, whereas India is 20% up on the 2019 numbers, which is a phenomenal achievement because 2019 was also a very good year. So, we are absolutely delighted with the numbers that we are seeing from the Indian market. Going forward, I am very confident of seeing a further 20% increase this year from the India market.
Around 1.76 million Indian visitors travelled to the USA in 2023, making India the fifth largest source market for international visitors, which includes Canada, Mexico, which are our bordering markets. So, if you take away these two then India is our No. 3 market, which is a big source of achievement considering India just came up in top 10 in 2019. The climb up has been truly impressive.
2024 – The Growth Year
I see 2024 with highlighted connectivity. I am really hoping to see some new direct connectivity with the changes at Air India. We have been led to believe that with the new aviation orders and the fact that Air India is making the United States a priority destination for 2024, we are hopeful that we will have that direct connectivity and more flights. However, we are very happy with the number of one-stops too from the Europe, Middle East and pacific and new connectivity with IndiGo along with Turkish Airlines, British Airways – it means that more cities in India have greater accessibility and better connectivity.
Students are a huge segment for us and in 2023, India market surpassed China to become the no.1 source of international students to the United States, which is incredible. It is a 35% increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, the corporate and MICE business has suffered post-pandemic because of the issuance of small groups visas and MICE Visas has not been a priority but what we are seeing is a spurt in families, leisure, inter-generational trips, small group trips. Prior to the pandemic, there were a lot of group tours from India to US, there are still some group tours, but our primary targets are the FITs, couples, families etc.
The 10th India Sales Mission
This Sales Mission is the first time where we have concentrated all our activities in one place. Brought everyone together in one place – our top performers across India to one single location – this is something we have never done before. Also, for the first time we have, running in tandem with the travel trade, a media track, so this year, along with the travel trade meetings, we also have active media interactions. We are always keen to try something different in our Sales Mission. This is the 10th Brand USA Sales Mission – the first one was held in 2008 – so there is a long history to this, and we are always trying to do something different and make sure that it is meaningful and productive for both, the US Suppliers who are coming and also for the travel trade and media in India. What is interesting this time is that we have 40 partners participating in the trade track, 16 of which are new to the Sales Mission, which is a testament to the fact that India as a source market is gaining visibility in the United States. Many industries, partners and destinations are paying attention because numbers from India are significant – Indian visitors are being noticed. When Indian students come, they go to all corners of the US and that propels a visitation from friends and families to go visit and they go to all the corners of the US.
In tourism, in general, there is always a fear of over-tourism. Some of our National Parks have had some incredible demand over the last couple of years, especially post-pandemic lockdowns, people were anxious to get out in open spaces, be in natural landscapes. So, while there are some concerns with regards to National Parks, the reality is that the United States is so big that there are places and space for everyone.
Situation with regards to Visa is getting better day by day. There have been challenges, however, challenges are prompted by the incredible pent-up demand to visit the US so that is a good problem to have. According to the latest figures, 1.4 million visas have been issued, which is phenomenal and double of what has been issued in the past.
Marketing Strategy for the future
Competition for the long-haul travel is growing and we realise that India is a huge economic engine generating a lot of outbound travellers and a great source market not just for the arrival numbers but also the spend numbers, which is phenomenal. We recognise our competition. However, we are not afraid of it. The reality is that US have been in the market for a longtime and the Indian market knows the US, is familiar with the US in terms of what we offer and also aware that the vacation you can have in the US – with a multitude of offerings in unlike any other. The depth and diversity of experiences that we offer in the US is unmatched, which along with a 10-year visa is a very positive for any tourist. We are also in a sweet spot as the US has a very strong two-way traffic with a large number of Indian diaspora and students who are living there.