Except for those who have been dutifully working the market and its reliable segments for years, India as a source of overseas visitors to the USA has surprised tour and travel professionals by the seeming suddenness of its growth. Were it not for the decade-long exponential expansion of China as an inbound tourism market—it is on course to become the largest U.S. overseas source market within the next several years—India’s growth as a source market would be described as phenomenal. From 2006 to this year, when it is forecast by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) to send nearly 1.7 million visitors, visitation from India will have grown 187 percent.
The data from NTTO explain part of the reason—the high percentage of visitors who come to the U.S. to visit friends and relatives. There are scores of thousands of Indians who have come to the U.S. for high-tech jobs or jobs requiring high-levels of skill. Also, hundreds of thousands of Indians have come to the U.S. during the past decade to study at U.S. universities and many have stayed on.
Another reason is lift capacity. It was only in 2004 that airlines from the Middle East (Emirates was the first) began flying non-stop to the USA, serving as a connecting point for its service from India. Etihad (founded in November 2003, it didn’t even receive its first A-380 until December 2014) followed, as did Qatar Airways. The increased competition caused Air India, the country’s flag carrier, to increase its own service to the USA.
All of the above developments, along with significant Internet penetration into India—this enabled potential Indian travelers to conduct their travel research more thoroughly and make travel plans more quickly—and increased marketing and promotional activities by U.S. destinations, travel suppliers and Brand USA have made India our Number 9 overseas source market.
Visitors to USA from India
|Year||Number of Visitors||Year-on-Year Change (%)|
|Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)|
Arrivals from India, 2014:
All Purposes of Trip
|Purpose||Percentage of Travelers Citing Purpose|
|Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)|
But there are other factors—factors best explained by first-person or second-person anecdotes and testimonials. Prabha “Pabs” Raghava, CEO of Tours Limited discussed some of these during her presentation at NAJ’s RTO Summit in Orlando last November. Her company, based in the Atlanta area, focuses on leisure, corporate, MICE, school and student groups, and then FIT.
What interested many of those who heard her presentation was the number of itineraries “outside the boundaries”—that is, outside the itineraries that focus on gateway cities or top tier destinations. One of her company’s tours, for instance, takes visitors from New York City to Philadelphia, then Washington, D.C., before heading to Niagara Falls before it returns to NYC for the flight back to India. But in between Washington, D.C., it spends a weekend in Hershey (it stops at Hershey’s Chocolate World) and Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, as well as stopping for part of a day in Corning, N.Y., home of the Corning Museum of Glass.
We at the Inbound Report asked if we could accompany a group on this non-gateway portion of the itinerary and find out for ourselves, person-to-person, what Indian travelers have to say about the USA and what brings them here. Following are some of the points we picked up from our time with the 47 travelers on the chartered bus that made the trip.
—English is the language of Indians traveling overseas. A study released earlier this year by Education First, a global education and travel organization, reported that Indians have a high level of proficiency English. Moreover, the level of proficiency is even higher among India’s travel-ready population. Because of the way that English is taught to students within India—stressing correct grammar—Indian travelers are not daunted by legalese or waivers or explanations that are full of American idioms and contractions. They will read and understand all of the disclaimer language in a brochure or contract, even if the typeface that is microscopically small.
Oh, It’s not necessary to know Hindi—even for Indians—to facilitate the travel experience in the USA. In fact, among the Tours Limited group we were a part of, which included people from all different parts of India, the travelers found it necessary, sometimes, to speak to one another n English, as languages and dialects vary throughout their home country.
—Springtime is a favorite travel time. A foreign service commercial officer had previously told the Inbound Report that May is a favorite travel time for Indians because it is so hot and humid during the month, and Indian travelers just want to get out of the cities. While there may be some merit to this—a fair number of the group agreed that it is hot and humid at this time of the year—they explained that April, May and the first part of June also comprise the time of the year when most schools are on vacation.
—It seemed that most of the group who came from India connected to the USA via Emirates or Etihad. One couple had come from Florida to New York to join the tour, having flown to Orlando via British Airways. They intended on returning via BA.
—For about 80 percent of the tour group, it was their first trip to the United States which means that this tour, through the less populated parts of Pennsylvania and New York State, intrigued them enough to choose it over an itinerary that was focused around New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or other marquee destinations.
—They know what they’re looking for and what they will see. And they are curious about what they don’t know. Every single person who talked with us was aware of the Hershey brand, one declaring, “You’ll find Hershey’s in every Indian household.” While this awareness is due, in part, to the international marketing savvy of Milton Hershey (1857-1945), the brand’s founder, knowing about where they are going it is simply the way all Indian travelers: this group told me so. For instance, all of the adult travelers in the group who we spoke with had already researched the Corning Museum of Glass and were looking forward to learning about the glass-making process or visiting the current and/or permanent exhibits.
After being told of the name of the river that runs through South Central Pennsylvania—the Susquehanna—three members of the group asked us separately for the name again, with one wondering what it meant. (It is Algonquin for “Big Water.”) Another bus-mate asked what the crop was in one farm field along U.S. Route 322. What we saw were the bottom of corn stalks. The farmer was not planting this year, we explained, rotating the corn crop to another field because corn is a crop that removes some of the soil’s rich nutrients. To plan and harvest in the same place every year would deplete the supply of these nutrients.
All of the group’s adults seemed extremely interested about anything having to do with the Amish culture. Several days earlier, in another part of Pennsylvania, they had seen an Amish farm being worked by horse-drawn implements and were curious about the scene. To the extent that we could, we explained the basics of what the Amish believe and how they live. For instance, it is fairly easy to spot an Amish-owned farm, as there are no power lines around—the Amish do not use electricity.
—Multigenerational travel is a sizable market segment in India. NTTO data on this travel segment are unclear, but every individual we spoke with confirmed that it is normal and usual for an Indian travel part to include grandparents, parents and children. Among the 47 people on the Tours Limited group, we counted five parties that included grandparents/parents/children.
—VFF rules. As significant as the multigenerational travel segment in general is that which involves visiting family and friends. To a person—the people at Tours Limited, the tour manage and everyone in the group—said that Indians who do stay longer while visiting family and friends are likely to make short trips to destinations and attractions in second- and third-tier destinations when they do.
As it was explained to Inbound, there are hundreds of thousands of expatriates, émigrés and adult children who now live in the U.S. in the Boston-to-Philadelphia corridor and in California’s Silicon Valley. And there are students—lots of students—from India now enrolled at universities in the United States. (In fact, according to the latest report of the Institute of International Education, there are some 133,000 students from India studying in the U.S., or about 15 percent of the total; only China sends more students to the USA.) It is not uncommon for family members to visit a student and stay for months at a time.
One bus-mate, R.D. Mathur, a retired banker-turned-travel blogger, pointed out that he has a brother who went to college in Pennsylvania, and that his son had graduated from college in California, and now works at Google in Mountain View, California. From other conversations we learned that the story of Mathur’s son is not an unusual one.
We’re Shocked,Shocked!! They hate Donald Trump, too: There is more, but let it suffice to say that one can learn much from the first person contact with a group of travelers visiting the USA—most of them for the first time. Inbound’s editor had to field inquiries on some touchy political subjects, too. The Indian travelers I accompanied, I learned, were interested not only in our beautiful scenery and open spaces—they also have some rather strongly critical opinions about Donald Trump and some other Americans.
How to Attract Indian Groups? Ask Corning Museum of Glass: Were it possible to give advice to a U.S. travel supplier on how to start working the Indian market, our first advice would be to talk with a tour operator like Pabs Raghava, CEO of Tours Limited, to see if it’s right for you. Or, one can contact Sally Berry, tourism sales and marketing manager at Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. (It’s in the south central part of New York State.)
A veteran of almost two decades in the tour and travel industry, Berry has been at the Museum of Glass for almost six years and has been a large part of the reason that the attraction has increased its international profile. She uses the location of the museum as a plus: It’s a great place to stop for tours on their way to Niagara Falls from New York and other major cities in the Mid-Atlantic USA.
While the Museum of Glass was already a part of Tours Limited itineraries to the falls, Berry has made the attraction a more integral part of its visitor growth by making certain that the attraction’s cafeteria services vegetarian cuisine and certain Indian specialties. As such, the Museum of Glass is a meal stop, too.
Berry told us that India is definitely a part of the museum’s strategic growth plan for international visitation. Currently, India is its Number two overseas source market, behind only China and ahead of France. She made it a point to visit Tours Limited in its Atlantic area office and strengthen the museum’s ties with the tour operator.
Visitors from India and Their Passage through Pennsylvania—A Sampler of Images;
Off the bus and preparing to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa., the Tours Limited Group receives last-minute instructions on protocol and the amount of visiting time available (it included an hour for shopping at the gift store) from Mihika Pethe, tour manager.
The group descends upon Hershey’s Chocolate World, part of the more than two million visitors who visit the attraction each year.
Following the visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World, the tour bus returns to Harrisburg, where it is early evening and time for dinner. Here, Mihika Methe returns to the bus to tell the group it’s time to eat at Passage to India, a popular Indian restaurant that sits alongside the Susquehanna River.
The next morning, the group visits the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg before heading north for the rest of their itinerary. Here, they’re leaving the bus and crossing Third Street to enter the capitol building.