Skift Take

Brand USA's recent sales mission in India and the US Consulate's all-hands-on-deck approach to reduce visa wait times surely highlight the importance of India as a source market. But a waiting period of almost eight months for visas is still an incredible test of patience.

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Reducing visa delays has been a priority for the U.S. consulates in India as wait times for visitor visas has gone down from more than 600 days to 247 days in New Delhi, 332 days in Mumbai, 357 days in Kolkata, while in Chennai the wait is still around 680 days. Skift had earlier reported about how the U.S. Consulate in India had been taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to reduce visa wait times. India ranks sixth among the top source markets for the U.S, said Jackie Ennis, vice president, global markets for Brand USA. A total of 1.25 million arrivals were registered from India in 2022. The latest figures in February revealed that 203,540 Indians travelled to the U.S. so far between January and February. In 2019, Indian travelers spent $16.5 billion in the U.S. The destination marketeer for the U.S. — Brand USA conducted its 2023 India Sales Mission in Mumbai and Delhi last week. Speaking at the event Ennis spoke about how the air connectivity between the two countries has been strengthened with Air India launching two direct flights to San Francisco from Bengaluru and Mumbai in December last year and from Mumbai to New York (JFK) in February. With this, Air India now has 46 weekly non-stop flights between the two countries, in addition to seven weekly direct flights operated from Newark to Delhi by United Airlines and seven weekly direct flights from New York (JFK) to Delhi by American Airlines. Calling India a fast-growing market with tremendous potential for growth in tourism, Ennis added, “We are thrilled to see a heightened interest in exploring beyond the gateways to lesser-known destinations.”

A slew of development projects with an outlay of $216 million has been launched in the north Indian city of Varanasi. This includes a passenger ropeway project that would make it India’s first city to have a ropeway public transport — the estimated cost of which is about $78.3 million. The 2.33-miles ropeway system will have five stations and facilitate the ease of movement for tourists, pilgrims and residents. “Kashi’s development is being talked about everywhere and every visitor is going back with new energy. There is a global buzz around Kashi Vishwanath Dham, Ganga Ghat work, and the longest river cruise. More than 70 million tourists visited Varanasi, also known as Kashi, in just one year. These tourists are creating new economic opportunities and employment in the city,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he unveiled the projects. Varanasi also recently hosted the two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) tourism ministers’ meeting with a likely joint action plan on the development of cooperation in tourism to be adopted during the gathering. 

In a bid to promote travel within the state, Assam government has signed a memorandum of understanding with regional carrier Flybig to operate daily flights connecting Guwahati with Dibrugarh and Silchar. Himanta Biswa Sarma, the chief minister of Assam, said the agreement would ensure a rise in the number of daily intra-state flights, and added that the authorities would keep a tab on pricing with the maximum price fixed at $49. Under the agreement, the intra-state flights will be operated under the vulnerability gap funding. Appealing to the masses to use the airline, Sarma said the flights operate at 50 percent of its seating capacity, anything less than that would be met by the state government as per the agreement to ensure the routes remain viable for the operator.

Israeli airline El Al is set to resume flights to India in October after a three-year hiatus, citing shorter flight times due to the ability to fly over Saudi Arabia and Oman. Israel’s flag carrier will operate four weekly flights to Mumbai from Tel Aviv using Boeing 737 aircraft, with the route expected to take 5.5 hours, down from 7.45 hours previously. It will also fly twice weekly to New Delhi using larger Boeing 777 or 787 planes. The flight time on that route will fall to 6.5 hours from 9, El Al said. “The launch of the new routes is now possible following the recently received approval to fly over the skies of Saudi Arabia and Oman,” El Al said.

Air retailing and payments platform Mystifly revealed the close of its pre-Series B funding round with Cornerstone Venture Partners (CSVP) bringing the total of this round to $8 million combined with earlier investments from RSI Fund (a subsidiary of Recruit), Jenfi and Crusade Partners among others. Mystifly plans to extend the market reach of its software-as-a-service (SaaS) products and services with this round of funding. “As we enter the next phase of growth, we remain committed to delivering innovative solutions to our customers and partners around the world. This funding will enable us to further expand our global reach, enhance our technology and data platforms, and deepen our relationships with our stakeholders,” Rajeev Kumar, founder and CEO of Mystifly told Skift.

Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo has launched direct flights between Delhi and Dharamshala, marking the airline’s entry into the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “Direct connectivity to Dharamshala will provide a gateway for the tourists to explore the local markets, temples and monasteries, museums, churches and unwind in the picturesque waterfalls and mountains of Himachal Pradesh. This move aims to bolster passenger traffic even further as we have witnessed a strong demand for connectivity to Himachal Pradesh,” said Vinay Malhotra, head of global sales at IndiGo. Located in the western Himachal region, Dharamshala is the state’s winter capital and the residence of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. 

The Delhi government has launched heritage walks across six circuits including New and Old Delhi to showcase the rich cultural heritage of India’s capital city. A combination of history, culture, storytelling, architecture, and long walks, these heritage walks will be conducted by certified guides from the ministry of art and culture on Saturdays and Sundays from 6.30am to 9.30am (IST). Each walk costs $12 per person and will only commence once a group has six people. According to the tourism department, the walks aim to showcase the charm of Delhi’s historical hubs and recount the narrative of the evolution of the city’s monuments. To take part in a walk, people can register on the tourism department’s website, where they can check the availability of their preferred dates. The program was launched by Delhi Tourism Minister Atishi at the historic Hauz Khas Fort.

Dubai-based air and travel services provider dnata has expanded its partnership with American Airlines to support the carrier’s growing business in India. The Texas-based airline that currently operates daily flights between New York and Delhi, also offers domestic services through its partnership with IndiGo and is now planning for further expansion. Dnata Representation Services will provide a range of sales and marketing services to American Airlines as its General Sales Agent (GSA) in India, a release from the company stated. It will also act as the essential link between the carrier and local trade, supporting its commercial operations in the market.

Tata Group-owned Air India has inducted its newest narrowbody aircraft — an Airbus A321neo — to its fleet recently, a day after it had revealed that the plane had departed from Airbus’ facility in Germany’s Hamburg. Interestingly, although the airline’s single-aisle fleet is entirely made up of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, including A321s, this is the first latest-generation A321neo to join its fleet. “This is a historic moment for Airbus and for Air India. India is on the verge of an international air travel revolution and we are honored that our partnership with the Tatas and our aircraft solutions will write that new chapter for the country’s air-connectivity,” said Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer and head of international at Airbus. The A321neo is the longest-fuselage member of Airbus’ best-selling, single-aisle A320 family, comfortably seating 180 to 220 passengers in a typical two-class layout, and as many as 244 in a higher-density arrangement.

Indian hospitality company ITC’s Hotel Group has announced the opening of Mementos by ITC Hotels, Ekaaya, Udaipur in the north Indian state of Rajasthan under its new brand Mementos. The hill side resort is located at 40 minutes’ drive from Udaipur airport and 12.4 miles from the city. Featuring cluster villas with 117 keys — every villa opens to a view of the panoramic Aravali — the property also has meetings, banquets, and events space with over 1 lakh square feet of collective area. Sustainability has been at the heart of design at Mementos Udaipur with focus on energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable site development, use of sustainable materials and indoor environment quality. 


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Tags: american airlines, assam, delhi, dnata, el al, heritage, india, indigo, israel, itc hotels, mumbai, skift india report, sustainability, tel aviv, united airlines

Photo credit: India ranks sixth among the top source markets for the U.S. Chuttersnap / Unsplash

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