Air India's expansion in San Francisco has made the city the second-largest gateway for Indian travelers to the United States, approaching pre-pandemic tourist levels and highlighting the potential for future growth and strengthened cultural ties between the two countries.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has become the second most frequented airport for Indians traveling to the United States, after John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The growth and addition of new nonstop flights by Air India is mainly responsible for SFO’s notoriety among travelers on the West Coast who travel between San Francisco, the Bay Area, and India, according to SFO officials visiting Mumbai to investigate more prospects with the Indian market.
Resurgence: Approaching Pre-Pandemic Visitor Numbers in San Francisco
Air India has received positive feedback for its current nonstop service from San Francisco to New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. The San Francisco Travel Association's executive vice president, as well as chief tourism officer, Hubertus Funke, observed that the number of Indian visitors to the city is beginning to resemble pre-pandemic levels. The number of travelers to SFO increased significantly from around 210,000 in 2019 to around 211,000 this year. With 150,000 travelers to the city in 2022, India managed to rank amongst San Francisco’s top five visitor destinations. According to a press release by the Times of India, there will be an estimated 34% rise in the number of visitors from India in 2023 due to the two regions' strong people-to-people bond.
Two SFO officials recently traveled to Mumbai, India on October 9th and 10th, 2023, to meet officials from TATA-owned Air India and investigate potential business opportunities. In addition to showcasing India's significance as one of the nation's fastest-growing foreign visitor markets, the visit was intended to fortify cultural relations and develop immersive travel experiences for Indian visitors to the city and vice versa. In addition, double-digit growth from the Indian market is anticipated over the ensuing few years.
Strengthening India-US Bonds
The SFO delegates met with important stakeholders while they were in Mumbai to discuss ways to promote understanding, cooperation, and possible long-term partnerships. Hubertus Funke also highlighted how San Francisco's ethos is reflected in India's vibrant economy and rich cultural heritage. The objective is to strengthen the bonds and improve mutual experiences between the two areas while taking advantage of India's rapidly expanding tourism industry. As the leading international gateway to the West Coast, San Francisco International Airport wants to be the first choice for Indian travelers.
Officials at SFO noted a sharp rise in the amount of money spent by tourists traveling outside of India; they predict numbers will approach USD 440 million in 2023 and grow by 63% in 2024. The need for an airlift, particularly in light of Air India's recent expansion in SFO, highlights the significant potential for increased tourism in the years to come.
San Francisco prioritizes attracting large foreign consumers like Indians since the city's downtown, Union Square, has taken a severe hit since due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What was up until 2019 a bustling hub of economic activity with plenty of workers and tourists is now little more than a pale shadow of its former glory.
The city’s desire to provide Indian travelers with memorable travel experiences in San Francisco is fueled by the country's rapidly expanding tourism industry. The officials perceive significant potential, which is evident in the need for airlift and, in particular, in the growth that Air India has already provided to SFO. From a visitor’s perspective, San Francisco city delegates see a lot of promise for the ensuing years.
Shubhankar Agarwal is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. He is a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service, where he is focusing on global governance, economic, and gender issues in the Indo-Pacific region.