With a record 1.76 million visitors in 2023, India rose in the ranks rapidly to emerge as the sole source market for the United States of America to have not only reached its pre-pandemic peaks, but actually exceed them by a hefty 20 pc.
It was in this backdrop that the 10th Brand USA India Sales & Media Mission was recently organised in Goa. The mission ran on two parallel tracks, trade and PR and saw an enthusiastic participation from India as well as the United States as present in the mission were 39 companies and 56 exhibitors from the US who met with 86 hosted travel trade buyers and 25 media from India during the course of the mission that lasted four days.
Leading the Brand USA delegation on the occasion was Jackie Ennis, Vice President, Global Trade Development, Brand USA. Ennis termed the Indian market’s performance in 2023 as nothing short of phenomenal, despite some challenges.
‘‘I am very happy to say that the Indian market for the USA inbound was a phenomenal year. And in fact, actually India is the only market that has recovered to the extent that it has post-pandemic. All of our other major target markets are actually are recovering, but they are still very much below 2019 numbers. The Indian market has really developed to be much more FIT driven. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, we saw a lot of group travel from India to the US. And we have had some challenges with the group visas, but that has not stopped the growth of the FIT travellers. So we are seeing some incredible trends of Indian visitors travelling all over the United States, going to more off the beaten track places as well as our gateway cities,’’ Ennis told India Outbound at the roadshow.
The pace of growth from India to US has not only stayed high throughout 2023, but actually kept on accelerating, according to data released by Brand USA. For instance, in December 2023, the number of incoming passengers from India to the US experienced a remarkable surge, reaching 153,848 individuals, marking an increase of 49.3 pc compared to numbers recorded in December 2019.
‘‘What we really hope for in the Indian market in 2024 is that this huge surge of traffic continues to be strong. And we have issued 1.25 million visas in 2023. So that leaves the door open to a whole new audience of Indian visitors to the United States. So our hope is that we will see Indian travellers coming and visiting not just the gateway cities, but also heading into remote areas, exploring more of the outdoors, soft adventure and discovering all the different aspects of the United States,’’ Ennis added.
According to Brand USA, leisure was the top segment of Indian visitors to the US, with couples and small family groups, often intergenerational travellers, with three generations travelling together on customised itineraries.
To propel the growth further in the year ahead, Brand USA is targetting not just the key metro cities but also going beyond to smaller cities like Chandigarh and Hyderabad. This is largely due to a huge improvement in air connectivity in 2023. While Air India has ramped up its flights dramatically, now flying almost 30 flights a week from various points in India to various cities in the US, IndiGo’s agreements with Turkish Airlines as well as British Airways has opened up many more cities that have normally been more difficult to access for Indian visitors.
Ennis said that Brand USA would seek to capitalise on this improved connectivity further. ‘‘So our focus is really to continue to emphasise the US as a destination with a diversity of experiences, but also expand that message into the Tier II cities and to try and do as many face to face events as possible and take our partners with us,’’ she said.