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Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 12 : 15 PM [IST]

US & India agree to work on improving accessibility & connectivity to grow bilateral tourist traffic

In the first ever strategic commercial dialogue on travel & tourism held in Delhi this week, the US and India agreed to work together to address issues of accessibility and connectivity between the two nations for creating demand for travel products and destinations mutually. The two sides also agreed to ramp up marketing activities to enhance awareness amongst the travel trade as well as end consumers to create demand. The dialogue was held in the backdrop of both the countries celebrating 2017 as US-India Travel & Tourism Partnership Year. “This is the first time that the governments have realised the potential of travel & tourism and created a vehicle to effect policies to realise that potential,” said Chris Thompson, President & CEO of Brand USA, the nodal agency entrusted with the marketing and promotion of destination USA internationally.

Giving details of the strategic commercial dialogue, Thompson agreed that there was major stress on accessibility and connectivity at the meeting which was held at the aegis of Department of Commerce, USA, and Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. Notwithstanding the ‘Open Sky’ policy between the two countries, there haven’t been efforts to leverage the spirit of the regime so far. Hardly 11% of the total passenger traffic from India to the US flies direct, he said. In order to improve people to people travel exchanges, direct connectivity is imperative, he added. “Most of the conversation was around improving direct connectivity to maximise the potential that liberal Open Sky Policy presents.” However, he agreed that the onus is on the private sector to effect real change through the policy, and destination promotion agencies on either side to work relentlessly to create necessary demand.

On the accessibility front, especially visa procedures and creating welcoming atmosphere for aspiring travellers, Thompson said that there is a real possibility of India entering into the ‘Global Entry’ programme of the US, which will drastically ease the entry process. “In the meeting yesterday, our officials sounded quite optimistic that it is close to be allowed for India,” he said.  Global Entry is a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) programme that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travellers upon arrival in the US.

Speaking on the Travel & Tourism Partnership between India and the US and the strategic dialogue  at a official reception hosted by Brand USA in Delhi, Suman Billa, Joint Secretary-Tourism, Government of India, said that there is “significant amount of interest to seize the opportunity and improve the travel numbers” on both the sides. He said that it is critical not only to add more seats in the air directly without layovers, but also to offer connectivity with more cities beyond the gateways to make it convenient for travellers. Also, there is need to ramp up B2B connect and consumer awareness to create more demand. “Unless the industry on both sides gets together, any amount of push by the governments will prove inadequate,” he said. While the US is the top source market for India, Billa said that the challenge before the Indian industry is to capture the vast middle-market professionals and families going forward. What India gets today is either high-end US visitors, or young travellers who come on “shoe-string” budget, he added.
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