More direct air-connectivity between Washington DC and key Indian gateways was going to significantly enhance DC’s chances of catering to a larger number of Indian outbound, believed Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO, Destination DC. He was recently in the capital for a trade meet and select media interaction. In a free-wheeling interview, he shared his views on a range of issues, including how India could better promote itself in the global market. Excerpts from an exclusive interaction:
Good political relations between two governments was facilitating smooth visa access and notable interest between trade fraternities were encouraging signs, said Elliot Ferguson, sharing his first thoughts on his visit to India. There was a strong interest, especially, among hospitality trade stakeholders, he remarked. Recounting the progress made since his maiden visit in 2016, he noted that Air India’s nonstops to Washington had boosted numbers. He expressed confidence in further growth from India shores, but was quick to add that the frequency needed to be increased. “We need more non-stop flights. Air India operates three days a week. We see the potential to grow this frequency to seven days a week. Perhaps, also some more new connections to some other cities in India will add value for us,” he said.
While Delhi ferried more passengers to Washington, DC gateways such as Bengaluru, Mumbai and select secondary markets were assuming greater significance, he shared. “We were in Hyderabad on our last visit and went to Ahmedabad on this visit. We are building those relationships in secondary cities, simply because we recognize their importance. We received a tremendous reception. The visitation was a positive step for us,” he reacted.
India’s stature as a catchment market for outbound travellers has grown in proportion with its steady economic rise. In past years, several American states have undertaken roadshows and awareness campaigns to gain more visibility. When asked whether a joint effort could yield better results, he said that agencies did collaborate on occasions. “We have worked with New York (NYC & Co.), Philadelphia (Visit Philadelphia), Visit Florida, Boston, Baltimore (Visit Baltimore) and New England (Discover New England). Specifically, with Australia, because we are looking at the length of the visit by Australian and New Zealand communities to the USA – which is usually 21 days,” he detailed.
He clarified that Destination DC was not averse to more collaborative efforts, the focus, however, was more on what worked best. He suggested that Washington DC was waging a constant “perception battle” as opposed to some other destinations in the USA, like LA or Vegas. “Unlike Las Vegas and Los Angeles, we are always dealing with the perception of what is there to do in Washington DC. We don’t want to be perceived as one of the underdogs when compared with other destinations,” he stressed.
Sharing that ‘story-telling’ was an integral part of the newly rolled out ‘DC Cool’ campaign, he insisted that the human element formed the very core of DC’s campaign. “There is a series of five stories of individuals on our website, Washington.org. They have either grown up or have relocated to the city and are doing wonderful things. Stories of individuals, like a Ballerina and a mural artist, who have made the city their home have been featured. The DC Cool campaign has a whole new component of Discover DC and it is from a standpoint of those individuals describing the city through their eyes,” he said. He observed that the city offered a wide range of experiences and products, often “amazing tourists.” The city offered shopping experience, sightseeing, museums, history and heritage and great monuments, he noted.
Commenting on what India could do better to gain more spotlight among global travelers, he remarked that India’s unique culture and heritage needed better promotion. “People often don’t quite understand how uniquely different and diverse India is and we fortunately understand that, as we have a sizable Indian community in Washington DC. It has thousands of years of heritage and culture. It puts things into perspective for us,” he said.
Global audiences had heard more about Indian cities and urban centers and unexplored and unique facets of India offerings needed to be give more prominence, he suggested.