New Delhi : The United States and India can do and achieve more in the fields of travel and tourism, said U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, adding that it is critical for both nations to maximize existing potential in these two sectors to facilitate greater people-to-people contact.
Addressing a US-India Travel and Tourism conference here today, Ambassador Verma, recalling the progress that has been made bilaterally in these two streams, said, “The numbers speak for themselves. In 2015, the United States was India’s largest source of foreign tourists. Over 1.2 million American visitors came to India, accounting for 15 percent of total foreign travelers. The e-Tourist visa program has also been an immense success; in fact, visitors from the United States are among the top users of the e-Tourist program.”
“And, it goes both ways. In 2015, the United States welcomed more than one million Indian visitors, who contributed nearly 11 billion dollars to the American economy. The number of Indians visiting the United States annually has doubled since 2009. And, last year the number of Indian students in the United States reached 130,000, the highest number ever,” he added.
“Our governments, however, can and should do more. Thanks in part to the successful “Incredible India” promotion campaign, India’s tourism industry is growing, but it has the potential to grow even faster if the right investments and policies continue to be implemented,” Ambassador Verma said.
He said that one of the areas that could help to increase this potential is timely and efficient air connectivity, which he added, is vital to any strong tourism relationship.
“It’s good to see Air India and United Airlines represented here today. United recently celebrated its 10th year of service to India and to date it has carried over three million passengers on nearly 13,000 flights between the U.S. and India. The U.S. is very encouraged by improving air connectivity, and we hope, the recently announced National Civil Aviation Policy will make air travel in India even more affordable and accessible,” he said.
“We look forward to increasing passenger traffic between our countries as India takes steps to facilitate greater regional connectivity and implement growth enabling measures. The announcement last week of 100 percent FDI in the civil aviation sector was a step in the right direction. I’ve seen first-hand the economic impact that regional connectivity brings to communities throughout India and its great potential to create opportunities for both business and skill development. We also welcome India’s commitment to sustainable aviation through its pledge to limit CO2 emissions in coordination with the International Civil Aviation Organization,” he added.
Ambassador Verma said that another key area is infrastructure development.
“This includes road connectivity, public transit, restaurants, hotel space, as well as a focus on sanitation and safety. Equally important is human capacity and good customer service. From the flight attendant, to the tour guide, to the hotel clerk, people want their travel experiences to be safe, comfortable, and hassle free. Guarantee these elements and tourists will flock in droves,” he said.
He revealed that the United States is also working hard to make travel to the country as enjoyable and easy as possible.
“A critical function in tourism, of course, is the issuance of visas. In 2015, for the first time in history, the U.S. Mission in India processed more than one million non-immigrant visa applications in a single year. We are proud of this milestone, and of the message that it sends: the United States is open for business and tourism and is committed to an efficient, fair, and transparent visa process,” Ambassador Verma said.
“Consular staff in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and New Delhi have risen to the challenge of a growing workload to deliver world-class service to Indian visa customers. Having adequate numbers of consular staff is one of the issues I regularly discuss with the Indian government. We need to grow our staff and are proud of the investments we have made with our impressive new consulate in Mumbai and our planned new consulate compound in Hyderabad. We encourage travelers to plan ahead and apply early to account for delays during busy seasonal times. To better assist both Americans and Indians, the U.S. and India also announced plans during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to establish a new Indian consulate in Seattle,” he added.
He also said that destination marketing and promotion are critical in helping visitors decide on where to visit and what to do there.
“Brand USA, a public private partnership that is promoting international travel to the U.S., has greatly helped raise awareness about the benefits of tourism in the United States,” he said.
Ambassador Verma said that President Barack Obama recognizes the importance of travel and tourism to grow the American economy and has set a goal of welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by 2021 through the National Travel and Tourism Strategy.
Describing tourism as equally critical to the future of the Indian economy, he said that if the right investments are made, tourism has the potential to support 46 million jobs in India by 2025.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel and tourism sector contributed USD 120 billion or 6.3 percent to India’s GDP, which supported approximately 37 million jobs.
Ambassador Verma said that both the U.S. and India have agreed to become travel and tourism partner countries for 2017.
“This partnership will further support U.S.-India trade in travel and tourism services and people-to-people exchanges. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will be here for the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in August and help take this initiative forward. Her extensive experience in the hospitality sector will provide invaluable input as we develop a new framework for our cooperation on travel and tourism,” he said.
He also highlighted the fact that India has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate participation in the Global Entry program, which is a significant milestone for both tourism and aviation security.
He said that an effort is on to promote meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE).
“Increasingly, we are seeing Indian business professionals visit the United States for retreats and conferences, and they are thoroughly enjoying their experiences. We encourage companies to reach out to our commercial and consular teams as you plan your next corporate event,” he said.
“Increasing numbers of Indian travelers are visiting each of our 50 great states, and they are experiencing the wonders of our national and state parks, visiting fascinating cities and taking their families to our many family-friendly destinations,” he added.
In concluding, Ambassador Verma said, “I want to emphasize the most important aspect of travel and tourism is not so much the number of dollars or rupees spent, but the person-to-person relationships that are cultivated, and the lasting memories that are created. The ties between our people and countries have come a long way, but there remains much more to explore. Let us continue the journey.” (ANI)