Key Takeaways: Following a discussion with Sheema Vohra†, who heads up New Delhia-based Sartha Global Marketing and represents various U.S. DMOs in India, INBOUND came away with several key takeaways: She wants those of us in the U.S. to work with the travel trade in India, have a good PR program in place, and educate the travel trade in our own destination. She made that clear several times during our talk. It is also seemed pretty clear, as we spoke, that the world’s second largest nation, India (1.27 billion) has a travel distribution system that is still maturing. It’s somewhat disorganized, very relationship-based and one’s success depends on how works with a handful of components. And things that have generally been regarded as challenges—lengthy wait periods for those applying for visas to travel to the USA, limited lift capacity, a demand/need for vegetarian cuisine for its travelers—have been or are being addressed as the profile of the traveler from India is changing to that of one who is younger, more independent and desires new travel experiences.
Why Are There so Few U.S. Receptives Who Sell India? “I don’t know,” confessed Vohra, who speculated that it is probably that the trade is in India not as mature and organized as it is other key markets. (The Indian Association of Tour Operators, for instance, is only 33 years old and has over 1,500 members, but international members are only a small component of the membership, which also includes domestic tour operators and allied members.) She also declined to comment on the matter, frustrating to the U.S. suppliers who have told INBOUND about it, of last-minute cancellations by operators; for example, an operator will put together a package tour, then cancel at the last minute due to customers who reportedly were unable to get a visa in time or because of some other matter.
Travel agents play a large role. DMOs should understand that, said Vohra. And, a point that she emphasized, working with the travel trade it is a relationship based enterprise. As such, one can work with just a handful of operators to start cultivating the market.
What about the Absence of Any Real Direct Lift between India and the USA? There are five regularly scheduled non-stop flights between the U.S. and India, operated by Air India and United. (Small, wonder. A non-stop flight is at least 17½ hours long.) How does this impact the chances for growth of the market to the USA, we wondered. Vohra quickly pointed out that Qatar Airways, Emirates and Eitihad all depart from India and have connecting service to U.S. Also, U.S. bound passengers connecting through Abu Dhabi Airport—it is the hub for Eitihad, the dominant Middle East carrier serving India—are allowed to undertake all immigration and customs inspections prior to departure. As well, Vohra pointed out, Eastbound traffic from India is served by carriers operating or connecting out of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and other Asian hubs. So, lift capacity is not an issue.
Doesn’t the Need to Have Vegetarian Meals for Indian Travelers Discourage Potential Suppliers? This might have been a greater issue a decade ago, Vohra said, but she indicated that the reality has changed—changed to the point that “there is no place in the U.S. that you don’t have Indian food … even in small places.” Also, she noted, while there is still a segment of Indian travelers that counts on having vegetarian meals where they visit, newer travelers who are very educated and very informed, are more interested in experiencing new cuisine, American cuisine, when they visit the U.S. Asked to estimate what proportion of the travel market is vegetarian and what is not, she put it at “about 50-50.”
What about Those Long Waits to Interview for a Visa … and to Have it Processed? That has changed—Vohra was emphatic about this—as in the past several years, the U.S. has increased the number of locations at which visa interviews take place from a couple to five (at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, as well as at consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderbad and Kolkata), and has reduced wait times from months to a several days. Also, she noted, Indians have 10-year visas, allowing them to forego return visits for interviews when one wants to take another trip with a year, as is the case for some countries.
Arrivals to USA from India
|Total Change (%)||47%|
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)
Changing Markets—The MICE and Student Factors: Vohra sees the student market growth as a major factor in the overall outlook for increased travel to the U.S. (India, with more than 100,000 students in the U.S., is No. 2, behind only China in this tally.). Not only do students take group trips from India to the U.S. They take trips as groups while in the U.S.—during holiday periods and during school breaks. And they often have parents visit them to join them on such travels. Vohra has a personal reference here—her own parents visited her when she was studying at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Vohra sees the MICE market growing at a dramatic rate—for several reasons. Among them is the increase in the number of multinational corporations with offices in multiple countries, with many of those having a U.S. base or headquarters. They rotate conferences at various locations, assuring travel to the U.S. for some of these conferences. This brings a new kind of MICE traveler to the USA. Plus, she noted, the U.S. has so many destinations that “have everything a MICE market desires—locations, venues for special events, entertainment …”
And We Speak the Same Language: While the market from India may seem distant for some U.S. DMOs and suppliers, the U.S. traveler marketer has a distinct advantage; that is, India is the second largest English speaking market in the world, behind only the U.S. with more than 125 million people who speak the language. And almost all of the travel-ready population is familiar with U.S. popular culture, idiomatic expressions and slang. This means, Vohra explained, that US. Suppliers don have to recast their advertising, their collateral or their websites in catering to potential travelers from India.
Finally … Where It’s Going on: While numbers from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office tell us where travelers from India have gone and why, Vohra—in response to our asking—told us where she thought the outlook is good for the near future: California, New York (the city and state), Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, to mention a few. She stressed again, as she did on several occasions during our talk, that the key for U.S. DMOs and suppliers is to … work with the travel trade in India, have a good PR program in place, and educate the travel trade in our own destination
†Sheema Vohra, who heads Sartha Global Marketing is based in India, but she has strong ties to the U.S. After her schooling in India, she came to the U.S. to study hotel administration at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She subsequently served as sales manager, international travel, and director India & subcontinent international sales for Marriott International. Her firm, Sartha, is only eight years old, but it represents some of the key players in the U.S. inbound tourism industry: Brand USA, Visit California, San Francisco Travel, the Las Vegas CVA and the Philadelphia CVB.