In the realm of long-haul travel, India emerges as a formidable economic engine generating a substantial number of outbound travellers and cements its position as an attractive source market. Jackie Ennis, Vice President, Global Trade Development, Brand USA, shares valuable insight into its success story and the addition of newer partner destinations to the growth graph of the India Market.
– Prativa Vaidya Bhalla
Brand USA, the nation’s destination marketing organisation, held its 10th Sales Mission in India at the Westin Goa from January 22 to 25, 2024. The meticulously organised three-day event set the stage for impactful trade interactions. With a record-breaking delegation of 39 travel partners from the US, including 16 first-time delegates, it showcased the high value of India as a source market for the US. The growth of the mission is evident, starting with just five participants during its inception and expanding to its current size. The event’s rich history underscores its consistent evolution, seeking innovative approaches for meaningful engagements between US suppliers and the Indian travel trade.
The eclectic mix of visiting partners highlighted the vast tapestry of experiences that the United States unfurls for avid travellers. Each participating entity offered a unique adventure, from the breathtaking red mountains of Utah to the old-world charm of Louisiana and the roaring majesty of Niagara Falls. While Miami beckons with its sun-kissed beaches and Art Deco charm, Los Angeles showcases a diverse cultural mosaic and Boston charms with its quaint brownstone elegance. Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Magnificent National Parks, windy surfing beaches, distinguished educational institutions, fast-paced modern cities, magical theme parks, roaring sporting stadiums, and winding ocean drives, tick every box on a travel checklist, providing varied experiences on one single itinerary.
The Meteoric Recovery of India Market
Despite 2023 being a recovery year, it has exceeded expectations and performed phenomenally in terms of visitation. Jackie states, “I am very happy to say that, the Indian market has by far been our most successful recovery. Of all our other target markets, most of them are 10 percent down in arrival numbers, whereas India is up 20 percent on 2019 numbers, which is a phenomenal achievement, especially because 2019 was also a very good year.” The latest arrival number for 2023 is 1.76 million, which places India as the fifth largest source market, including Canada and Mexico. However, India comes in at number three as an overseas international market, if you do not count these neighbouring nations. It is a remarkable accomplishment as it had just entered the top ten in 2019, so the current ranking of either fifth or third reflects significant progress, establishing its status as a key market.
Targets for 2024
In 2024, Brand USA will emphasise enhancing connectivity, aspiring for direct connections and increased flight options. Indigo’s collaboration with Turkish Airlines, and British Airways further amplify accessibility to diverse cities in India. Brand USA’s endeavour is to go beyond facilitating travel, with the prime objective of driving visitation to lesser-known destinations, especially to regions outside major metropolitan centres.
This sales mission marks several significant firsts, including the inclusion of a partner from North Dakota, reflecting the increasing interest from Indian visitors in less-explored destinations. Boston, a well-known city for Indian visitors, is participating for the first time, as is the state of Illinois. Kissimmee continues to join and Seattle, with its CEO in attendance, adding to the diverse mix and generating considerable interest.
Key Developments in the India Market
Students are a huge segment, and having surpassed China in 2023, India is the number one source of international students to the United States, with a 35 percent increase from 2022. The student population has now reached close to 270,000 Indian students in the US, making them the highest overseas student group from around the globe. Indian visitors are making a noticeable impact across the United States, with the presence of international students playing a crucial role. The dispersion of these students to different corners of the country not only fosters cultural exchange but also inspires friends and family to visit.
The largest segment of Indian visitors belongs to the leisure and FIT segment, comprising mostly couples, intergenerational families, and small groups travelling together.
There is always a fear of over-tourism, and national parks have had incredible demand over the last couple of years. However, the United States is so large, that there is space and diversity of experiences for everyone. Also, the diverse vacation options in the US offer a depth and diversity that sets the US apart from its competitors. Visa issuance is on an upward trajectory with each passing day, and India is witnessing record numbers of issued visas including the highest number of student visas. The embassy has achieved significant success throughout the year, marked by the issuance of 1.4 million visas, a phenomenal accomplishment that is a huge increase over previous figures. Despite these successes, challenges persist due to the extraordinary pent-up demand for visits to the US.
Beyond sheer arrival numbers, the spending statistics from Indian travellers are remarkable. Despite intensifying challenges from other competing destinations, the United States, has faith in its longstanding presence and familiarity among Indian travellers.
Numbers Don’t Lie
The number of visitations from India was 1.76 million in 2023 and 1.25 million in 2022, as the world was just awakening from the pandemic and commercial flights from India were suspended till the end of the first quarter of last year. The year 2019 saw the last high of 1.47 million arrivals to the US. The top figures present a notable upward trend, a half-million increase over 2022. Particularly remarkable is the December surge, featuring a 49.3 percent increase over the peak year of 2019, with a total of 123,000 arrivals during that month.
Latest Indian Travel Trends
There is a surge in interest among Indian visitors for road trips, notably coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Route 66, an iconic milestone. The appeal of vast, open landscapes and the post-pandemic inclination towards more frequent but shorter vacations is becoming a prevalent reality. Another noteworthy trend is the deviation from conventional itineraries, with a growing preference for immersive experiences like road trips, wildlife adventures, and cultural exploration customised to particular tastes and choices.
“I still think our forecast for India is slightly unambitious and that we are going to do even better. I think we are going to be here in another year’s time, and hopefully declaring another year of bumper arrivals,” concludes Jackie on an upbeat note.