Christopher L. Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, shares his candid views on the future of the India-US travel market and why the US is so bullish about India
As a tourist destination, the United States holds great promise for all travellers. From the glitzy skyscrapers of the Big Apple to the glamorous boulevards of Los Angeles, there is something for everybody in this country. And, promoting this wonderful destination is Brand USA, a Destination Marketing Organisation, which is dedicated to increase international visitation to the country. Recently, the organisation held its Seventh Annual India Travel Mission in Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi, from September 23-28.
Today’s Traveller’s team caught up with Brand USA’s President and CEO, Christopher L Thompson, to know more about the burgeoning India-USA tourism industry, the theme for this year’s conference and the newer avenues that could be explored to further boost US tourism.
At the very outset, Thompson is eloquent about the growing number of visitations from India to the United States. According to Thompson, “Visitation by Indian travellers to the United States has been growing consistently year on year. With 1.29 million visitors in 2017, India was the 11th highest ranked country by arrival numbers and ranked sixth in terms of visitor spend to the US.” The rise in numbers has been made possible by a range of in-market trade and consumer initiatives by Brand USA. The focus of such initiatives has been to promote the rich diversity of travel-related experiences in the country – from shopping to dinning to enjoying the scenic outdoors of the country.
Continuing, Thompson focussed on the current theme for2018, which was music, and noted that the rich musical tradition of the country had shaped the great American cities and defined what may be called the quintessential American experience. “Our theme for this year’s meeting is music. We are focussing on the fact that we are a nation of immigrants and that music is the universal language that binds us all. Our music, especially the pop music culture of the United States, is shaped by the world. A lot of our musical genres have been found in some of the major cities in the country and have defined who we are. Further, our pop culture is still very appealing, particularly to the younger demographics,” explains Thompson.
The organisation is undertaking a range of efforts to further popularise American music, having released a promotional movie in February to that effect, called, ‘America’s Musical Journey.’ The movie features the iconic Bobby Freeman’s 1958 number, ‘Do You Want to Dance.’ Further, the movie allows five contemporary American singers to interpret the song in their own ways. Following their renditions are short interview excerpts, in which the artists talk about the musical heritage of their cities and how that has shaped their artistic endeavours. The movie is expected to be premiered in India before the Fall, and Thompson says he cannot wait for the reactions to pour in.
When asked about the recent drop in numbers of visitors from India to the US, Thompson seems unperturbed. “The commerce department noticed around the middle of last year, that the numbers were either flat or down. A lot of it had to do with new ways of technology for counting visitors and they realised that there was an anomaly. So, in September, they suspended the reporting to go back to fixing it,” says Thompson, adding that, “visitation in 2017 was nearly 1.29 million visitors and it was up by 6.5 percent. Further, the total spend of Indians in the USA that was nearly $15 billion was up by 9 percent year over year.”
Thompson is also excited about the young demographics of the country that, he says, is great for boosting tourism, since young people have disposable income and the inclination to travel. “One of the amazing things we learned about India was the fact that there are over 700 million people in India under the age of 35 and by the year 2020, the median age of India will be under 29. Everything that we offer is something that appeals very much to these Millennials,” observes Thompson excitedly.
When asked about the challenges faced by Brand USA in attracting tourists from India, Thompson dismisses the question, stating, “There are hardly any challenges. We share our form of government; we share a language and a natural affinity with India.” Of all the areas of travel, leisure travel connected business, which sees corporate leaders travelling with their wives, is an upcoming area of travel that holds great promise for the future. Thompson signs off by saying that overall the Indian market has a great potential and Brand USA is quite “bullish” about it.