The bonhomie between the tourism industries in India and the USA is most likely to continue under the Trump administration as the newly elected government takes centerstage in a couple of months, and India and the USA gear up to celebrate 2017 as the year of tourism. Elliot L. Fergusson II’s prognosis is based on the President-elect’s long-standing involvement with the hospitality industry. In an informal discussion with TF, he also asserted that Washington’s tourism product entailed much more than just heritage and museums, a perception he seemed determined to change. Excerpts:
The larger industry perspective from both the countries has been that there needs to be more engagement and it is fairly visible as far as attempts from both the sides in augmenting travel and tourism between the two nations is concerned. Now, you have the Indo-US Tourism year being celebrated in 2017, but do you see the momentum being continued under the Trump administration as the new administration takes charge in Washington in the coming months? Is that an area of concern?
It is not a concern yet, because I think the reality is that this is an administration, at least the President-elect, truly understands the hospitality industry. He has been a huge benefactor of the hotels and casinos that he has owned, and I think he will continue to maintain the interest in additional visitation to the United States – simply because it is an industry where he has been actively involved. So, I cannot imagine the new administration will do anything…in fact, they will be more active. As a matter of fact, the US Travel Association has already interfaced with his administration, the incoming administration, to talk about some of our priorities. I know that the CEO of Marriott International has already sent a letter to the President-elect referencing some of the priorities for the industry – and again, he owns hotels. So, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this will remain, the Indo-US relationship, very front of the line.
So, you believe that broad-based consensus will continue in the longer run?
As pertaining to this industry, absolutely. We benefit from this; his properties benefit from this. It just makes sense for him to continue to make sure that this is the case.
You have in your presentation spoken quite extensively on how Washington, D.C.’s tourism product is so much more than museums and heritage. But quite honestly, it is one of your biggest assets, and given that India has quite a repository of heritage itself, it could turn out to be a great pull for the discerning Indian traveller if properly marketed here in India.
Absolutely, and we will. There is no doubt that when visitors are looking at coming to Washington, D.C., they are looking at the American experience; they are looking at history – and we know that Indian visitors are knowledge seekers. So, monuments and museums are a strong draw and we are very fortunate to have these many in our city that are free for visitors. So, that is important. But we also know that people want diversity in experience and some of these museums close at seven o’clock. So, you have to have other things; we do not want to be a city where there is nothing to do after seven o’clock, because there is so much to do and that is what we are focusing on, as well, to look at that a visitor does not come to Washington just for one day, because there is so much to do and there are so many ways that you (visitor) could do it. There are other opportunities to hear what Washington has to offer.
This is your first foray into the Indian market. What are the distribution channels you are looking at? Given that there has been so much happening in the OTA space in India in the past few years, especially, do you see yourself tying up with some of the OTAs to roll out specific offerings tailor-made for the Indian outbound? Is that a possibility in the near future?
That is a possibility. We have done that with some of the other destinations, where we are marketing with some of the OTAs. So, the goal is you know…IPW will be our first opportunity with so many of them being in the Washington, D.C.; our team already works with a lot of OTAs in India, now. For us, this is the first opportunity to, quite frankly, get in front of so many folks who influence travel; ironically, many of them who have never been to Washington themselves. So, a lot of the folks and OTAs say that they send people to Washington all the time, but they themselves have not been to Washington. And, I recognize the fact that they see the things that you said: the monuments, heritage and history etc. But are they able to sell the diversity of Washington that is? So, we are encouraged by the opportunity to meet more media, more OTAs in Washington to really give them a chance to see how D.C. could be much more.
So, it is more of a familiarization process for now, is not it?
Yes, it is a familiarization process, information gathering to see that when people talk about Washington, in addition to going for the monuments and memorials, we want them to be able to say that you can also catch a football game while you are in the city, or you could go in this time of the year, there is the Jazz Festival, or the Independence Day celebration – it is an extremely large celebration in Washington. They will be able to say those things, because of the experiences of the things which they will while they are there in D.C.