For a long time, China and Thailand have been the major draws in Asia for tourists from the U.S. However, recent U.S. Department of Commerce data revealed that more citizens visited India last year than Thailand. When it comes to American travelers, India is now as popular as Spain. Nearly 5 million Americans traveled to India in 2007, almost double the number in 2000, and an increase of 10 percent from the previous year. A surging economy, a brace of international airlines flying into New Delhi and the marketing campaign “Incredible India” by the Tourism Ministry have all contributed to the boom in arrivals.
India has surpassed Thailand as a destination visited by U.S travelers
“The perception of India has changed and the country is now on the ‘must-visit’ list of experienced travelers,” says Laudie Hanou, vice president of Sita World Tours. “For many, India is a journey of a lifetime.”
Sita World Tours books its clients into Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Oberoi Hotels & Resorts properties. “India has great infrastructure and beautiful hotels that are more than luxe,” Hanou says, adding that she is also seeing an increased interest in booking dual destination trips combining India and either China or Malaysia. “After all, if you’ve come all that way, why not visit more than one country?” she says.
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Hanou observes that Thailand is a very different market than India, portraying it as more of a budget destination. “India is our top seller,” she says. “We’ve found that many people have already done Thailand—they’re branching out to other destinations.”
Deepi Mehta, owner of Carlson Wagonlit/Travel Express in Houston, echoed this observation. “My clientele is upscale, educated and well-traveled,” says Mehta. “They’ve seen Hawaii and the Caribbean. Now they’re looking for something more exotic, and India appeals to them.”
Mehta reveals that much of her India business is inspired by word of mouth. “I get calls from clients who say, ‘My friend went to India and had a marvelous time.’ Now they want to go,” she says.
Mehta also notes that when compared to the euro, the dollar is doing well against the Indian rupee, making India a better bargain than Europe.
When Mehta came from India to the U.S. as a teenager, she remembers that there was very little interest in India’s cuisine. “People were inquisitive, but not willing to try Indian food,” she says. “Now, Indian cooking has become very popular in the U.S., and I think that’s helping to inspire travel to the country.”
Early next year, Mehta will bring a culinary group of travelers to India. “These are foodies all the way,” she says. “Our trip will focus on cooking demonstrations, visits to the best restaurants and an exploration of the regional differences in India’s cuisines.”
Sanjiv Vashist, assistant director for the Los Angeles office of India Tourism, has a different take on why India is seeing a spike in visitors from the U.S. “It’s because of the growing business relations between the two nations, and India’s growing economy, which is showing 7 to 9 percent growth each year,” says Vashist.
He also points to the increase in flights from the U.S. to India, citing as an example Jet Airways’ recent inaugural flights from San Francisco to Mumbai.
“We’re also an English-speaking country, and that is important to U.S. travelers,” adds Vashist.
“I think the India market will see a steady increase over the next few years, although we’re still selling more Thailand over India,” says Edwin Choy, general manager of GTS Globotours. Choy notes that GTS Globotours’ India business is increasing, and its 16-day tour program “Enchanting India and Dubai,” which combines India and Dubai, is a great success. “In this case, Dubai is helping to sell India,” he says.