Washington D.C. Is Targeting More Markets in India For Tourists



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Think Washington D.C. is all business suits and formal wear? Destination DC’s CEO wants you to think again.

Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC, knows what’s needed to boost Indian arrivals to the U.S. capital.

Along with others in the travel industry, Ferguson calls out the U.S. visa process as the primary hurdle for Indian travelers. Despite some improvements, the wait for a visa interview still exceeds 300 days.

“Economically, the U.S. understands the importance of tourism, but if we do not make it easier for the international tourists to come into the country, we’re missing out on opportunities,” Ferguson told Skift during his recent trip to India.

And while the average stay of an Indian tourist coming in to Washington is 3.5 nights, Ferguson said they are targeting day trippers, who come to the city thinking there won’t be much to see and do.

“We want visitors to really experience America as a whole — we only wish that they start their trip in Washington and end it in the city as we want them to stay for more than just a night.”

More Nonstop Flights and Targeting More Markets

The increase in Indian arrivals has been encouraging. Ferguson, said Washington D.C. had more than 147,000 visitors from India in 2023, a 50% increase from 2022 and 11% ahead of pre-pandemic numbers.

Ferguson identified the need for more nonstop flights.

Currently Air India is the only airline flying direct between Delhi and Washington. Before Covid, Washington D.C. had more direct flights connecting it with Indian cities.

Ferguson also emphasized the importance of targeting key markets beyond Delhi and Mumbai, focusing on cities like Goa, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Ludhiana and Chandigarh.

D.C.’s Image

Washington D.C. is the seventh most visited destination in the U.S. by the overseas global community. Ferguson acknowledged that being a small city with 700,000 people, the city can’t accommodate 40 million visitors, and can never by Number 1. But he wants to make sure that more international overseas tourists are aware of what Washington has to offer.

He wants to dispel Washington’s “serious” image, let visitors to know that the city is also fun.

Washington DC. is also a popular destination for business travel, as well meetings, incentives, conventions and events. Happy with the performance in that sector, Ferguson said Destination DC wants to make sure that 60% of trade shows in Washington are international.

“However, trade shows are saying that they are not seeing countries like China and India come because of how long it takes to get a visa. We want to make it easier to get these people to come into our country,” he said.

Ferguson said that for now the city would be targeting the 4 million U.S. visas that are already held by Indians. The U.S. Embassy in India usually issues tourist visas for a 10-year period. “So there’s a targeted market there that we continue to focus on,” he said.

Discussions at the Skift India Summit taking place in Delhi-NCR from March 19-20, will center around the outbound Indian traveler.

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