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The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board has opened an office in Mumbai, which it says makes it the first U.S. destination marketer to have its own staffed promotional office in India.
The new location joins L.A. offices in London, Sydney, and several cities in China, Kathy Smits, the board’s vice president of international tourism, told Skift. She noted that while a lot of other U.S. destination marketers do have a presence in India via their work with agencies, the L.A. outpost will mean Indian employees will be “100 percent devoted to representing Los Angeles” using their in-market expertise.
The reason for the investment? Indians are coming to Los Angeles at an increasing rate. This year, they are expected to reach 136,000, a growth rate of 4.4 percent compared to 2018. Last year, India had the fourth-highest growth rate of inbound travelers to L.A. among all international markets, behind Brazil, Italy, and Spain. By 2020, it is forecast to have the highest growth rate among all international markets, making India L.A.’s “number one opportunity market.”
Overall, India is a top 10 source market for the U.S. Just under 1.4 million Indian residents last year traveled to the U.S., according to data from the National Travel and Tourism Office. Pew Research reported that in 2015, the Indian population of Los Angeles was 153,000.
Key to the the growth is increased airlift coming out of the Middle East in the last two years, Smits said. “Right now we don’t have non-stop service to L.A. [from India] but we have so many different ways to get to L.A.,” referring to increased stop-over flights provided by Emirates and Etihad, as well as other connections through Asia and Europe.
Smits said Los Angeles benefits from extremely high brand awareness in India, thanks to everything from Hollywood (and its attendant Bollywood connection) to the NBA, which she says resonates hugely with the Indian market. But the challenge lies in marketing the sprawling, unruly web of neighborhoods and suburbs that comprise Los Angeles — not to mention its intimidating freeways. For that, Los Angeles Tourism has been engaging local influencers in its key markets, such as Malaika Arora in India, to help communicate not just that travelers should visit L.A,. but more crucially how to do it well.
“A lot of what we’re doing is educating through the travel trade and also [through] influencers on really how to manage Los Angeles, how to navigate what neighborhoods you want to go to and what you want to do” Smits said. “The appeal is absolutely there, but we also want to make sure that visitors have a fantastic experience so that’s where our focus is.”
Interestingly, it’s possible that India may approach parity with Los Angeles’ historical number one source market: China.
“China has been our number one market when we look historically. Los Angeles was the first office to welcome over a million Chinese visitors,” Smits said. “We had double digit growth [from China] for years and now we’re single digit growth … but I think India is really the market where we’re seeing strong numbers as we look over the next five to ten years and we expect that will continue.”