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Published on : Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Millions of people still yearn to visit the US to realise the so-called American dream. But that does not make the superpower’s job easy to get foreigners to fly there and contribute to their economy. Brand USA that markets the country worldwide seeking to divert tourist traffic to this trans-Atlantic wonderland, has to do a lot of hard-sell to woo travellers. Its vice president Cathleen (Cathy) Domanico was in India recently to promote the US among local folks. She spoke to Nirbhay Kumar about her plans to triple the number of Indians visiting the US in the next five years. Excerpts:
So, how do you sum up your trip to India taking along a big delegation?
It has been remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. We had great response from tour operators in all the three cities we visited. In Mumbai which was our first destination we hosted about 200 travel and trade professionals. It was same in Bangalore and Delhi meeting 200-odd operators each day. This is the largest delegation we have ever taken to India from the United States. We have 37 companies representing 51 people. Again, the number of suppliers as well as buyers has increased. Overall, it has been very successful trip. I believe this one of the best programmes hosted in India. The amount of engagement we had with travel and trade industry, it was much more than expected. The response from our partners has been phenomenal. People showed immense interest in knowing the USA.
How important is India for you in terms of tourist footfall?
I think India is one of the most important source markets for us. The sheer volume makes it very important. India is a huge country and we have seen huge growth from India. In 2015, we saw 1.12 million Indians visiting the US which is 17 per cent increase over the previous year. The spend has also increased 18 per cent year-on-year. So, the number of 1.12 million is a very big number. We know that there is great potential in India. Also, the announcement earlier this year of co-operation between India and the US shows the commitment to this market. We are working very hard to increase the number of Indians who come to the US. We are also very dedicatedly working with the travel and trade and creating new product offerings. We are targeting luxury segment. We have identified this area which has great potential.
Which are other key source markets in the region?
Probably, China is the biggest market in Asia. It has been growing very fast. But, right now we are focussing on India because we think that this market is substantial. The fact that a very good number of suppliers from the US are willing to meet Indian buyers show that we are here for long haul. At present, India is number 11 in terms of foreign tourist arrivals to the US. In terms of spending also, it is one of the top markets globally and stands at number 7. Even this year, during the first three months of the calendar year which is not the main travel season but tourist number has expanded by 11.9 per cent. Over 230,000 Indians visited the US in these three months of the year itself. The ambassador (the US ambassador to India) yesterday declared that the US issued over 1 million visas last year. This year they would be ahead of the target.
A large number of Indian tourists prefer flying to Europe for vacation and leisure travel. How do you plan to divert them to the US?
Our role as the Brand USA is to capture bigger market share and increase visitations to the US. We are putting tremendous amount of effort along with the travel and trade, consumer media and partners to attract more Indians. For example, with consumer media, we have a brand new campaign that has been just launched. We will be carrying this out throughout the year. We will have a strategy to promote our offerings through various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We will continue to put the message out there to capture this market.
What are the new offerings for the Indians visiting the US?
There are a lot of things actually. We are building new itinerary on regular basis. We have products for families and couples but this is what we are constantly developing. Our role is to train tour operators and make them aware to what all offerings are available in the US. We want to get people from beyond the three gateways. We will continue doing road shows here.
The US being the world leader, your job would be very easy selling it globally. This is what many people presume.
I really cherish my job of representing the United States of America. The biggest challenge we have is educating people and about length and breadth of the United States. It is a very big country with so many things to explore. It is very difficult to have people understand what United States is about. Which is why we are focussing on travel and trade partners. By doing so we help people understand how broad the experience could be in the United States. It is a big job. US is a fantastic destination but we have to tell people about it. We have to give the story out. Because, unless we do it things wont work. You have seen a movie and know about New York but you will not know what all you could do there in five hours unless somebody tells you. We have to communicate. We have to somehow educate our partners in travel trade. Getting people to decide to travel to US takes a lot of work. It is definitely a challenging task.
Any number you are looking at for Indian tourists visiting the US in coming year?
We are looking at a long-term target. Our ultimate goal is 100 million people by 2021 globally. Right now we have 1.12 million visitors from India. We want to increase it to 2.8 million in next five years. So it is a big target.
Tags: Brand USA