Published on : Saturday, September 22, 2018
Travel And Tour World presents an exclusive interaction with Jonathan Ward, Principal Commercial Officer, U.S. Consulate General Kolkata at the conference ‘Prospect East – Expanding Perspectives’ Indo-US Promotion of Travel & Tourism II held in a luxury hotel in Kolkata.
Speaking to us at the event, Mr. Ward discusses fresh trends in the Indo-American tourism sphere and effortless accessibility of the U.S. tourist visa for Indian visitors. He also talks about the immense tourist potential of eastern India, particularly the capital city of West Bengal, Kolkata in terms of drawing American wayfarers and much beyond.
Travel And Tour World: Tell us something about the transformation in Indo-US travel.
Jonathan Ward: In the recent years there has been more travel in the Indo-US tourism sector. In fact, the number of Indians travelling to the U.S. has crossed a significant threshold, marking one million outbound visitors so that is a very important milestone and we see that the number has been growing both ways.
A lot of such travels have to do with increasing number of Indians studying in the U.S. because education is directly connected with tourism and also Indian diaspora in the U.S. has risen dramatically. In fact the number of Americans or permanent residents living in the U.S. of Indian heritage have crossed 40 lakhs and so number of people travelling back and forth for family reasons or for educational reasons keep increasing. As Indian economy grows and Indians have more disposable income they want to travel and see more of the world and certainly United States welcome more Indians to come and stay.
We help American citizens and travellers by providing information as we provide travel rules and regulations to people all over the world. The official website maintained by U.S. Department of State informs Americans about travel rules all across the world and we want to see our families from there to come here, and we have the e-visa now that is a great development, to encourage international tourists from the U.S. and also all over the world.
We see more investments in airports and roads and this makes it easier for international tourists to come over to India.
Travel And Tour World: Are there any expansion plans for the airport?
Jonathan Ward: I do not monitor plans in Indian airports, although I am aware that there is a lot of airport development going on. For instance you have a lot of airport development thanks to the ‘Udan’ (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) program where I believe you are going to have Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities enjoy air connectivity. More adventurous international tourists take trains but in terms of efficiency and time, they need that airline connectivity, particularly to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities of India.
Travel And Tour World: Tell us about the national travel and tourism strategy of the U.S.
Jonathan Ward: Within my agency the U.S. Department of Commerce, we house the National Travel and Tourism office and that office works to find new strategies draw more tourists to the United States and we also have a public-private partnership with Brand USA that works to encourage tourists to visit the U.S. There is an office of Brand USA in India and that helps to get the word out to travel and tourism operators in India about opportunities in the United States and of course the Indian Ministry of Tourism does something very similar to what Brand USA does.
What is significant here is that last year 2017 was designated by our two central governments as Year of Partnership in travel and tourism between United States and India so our government worked together to identify ways to minimize impediments to people from two countries travelling both ways. And we do have the US-India commercial dialogue in travel and tourism so our governments are working together to encourage more travel and tourism between these two countries.
Travel And Tour World: How would the national civil aviation policy make air travel between India and the U.S. more affordable and accessible?
Jonathan Ward: That is a little bit of a broader question that I am not fully briefed on but under this U.S.-India commercial dialogue we are going to identify the forms and changes that are going to increase the travel and tourism. I mentioned the e-visa, the U.S. the fourth visa to the United States is for bonafide travellers as Mr. Anil Punjabi talked about. Even he thinks that the U.S. visa is one of the best visas in the world, once you get the visa to the U.S. you can go about back and forth for 10 years without having to renew it.
Travel And Tour World: Are there any infrastructural constraints?
Jonathan Ward: Well one area I would not call ‘constraint’ because I am not much familiar with any of the issues here and each government has to allocate gates. We know that the Indian government is looking at how many gates are allocated at different airports to international travel, particularly to foreign airplanes.
And it is a political question and economic question as to how many gates are allocated to India so Indian government as to how to make those research allocations.
Travel And Tour World: Last year U.S. topped the list to 632 million air passengers so what drives this growth?
Jonathan Ward: I am not familiar with the statistics, and I do not even know what it has grown from. Air travel is very closely tied to economic development when business is booming and when people are making more money air travel is obviously going to go up. I would not talk about what is happening in the U.S. but India represents a much more interesting market and some of the fastest growing routes in the world are between Indian cities.
I saw a recent statistic that said that Kolkata-Delhi route is the 10th fastest growing route in the world. So Indians are travelling more in India and a lot of Indians are buying our aircrafts, like the Boeing aircraft. We certainly want to be part of that growth in even domestic travel within India so the whole world is looking at India as a very exciting market not just to draw tourists to their own country but also to supply equipment to airport developments and actual airplanes, etc.
Travel And Tour World: What according to you is the most popular tourist thrill in the City of Joy for American wayfarers?
Jonathan Ward: For Americans of course, large and very beautiful buildings like Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Mother House are high on the bucket list and it also depends on what their religious background is whether they will check the Belur Moth or witness Buddhist sites across east India as per individual needs. Another thing is getting the word around about the different opportunities.
Yesterday I was at an event where they were talking about ports, river cruise, railway and tea tourism while Kolkata is the jumping off point for that – so more Americans and other international tourists learn about the opportunities here in Kolkata specifically West Bengal, East India. If more options available to them, then you are going to see more interest in this region, overall.
Travel And Tour World: Since West Bengal has lot of heritage tourism spots so far is the interest quotient among Americans because it is also a colonial era hotspot?
Jonathan Ward: I can speak from my own experience as I have stayed in Kolkata for three years. I really enjoy going out during the weekends and different events and I feel the more Indian government and private sector highlight the heritage and at the same time organize events at different sites people would get more interest to visit these places.
Travel And Tour World: What are the growth challenges to attracting more American tourists to Eastern India?
Jonathan Ward: I think that the Government of West Bengal is doing more outreach, and even private sector like some of the companies that are talking right now about going to Rajbaris like Rajbari Bawali, tea estates and others you have to get the word out all the more, as you are also competing against Jaipur and destinations that are better known to international tourists.
There are so many interesting things to see in this part of the country.