NEW DELHI: India emerged as the fifth largest source country for international visitors to the US in 2021 — up five places from pre-pandemic 2019 — despite the deadly delta wave that saw many countries, including Uncle Sam, imposing restrictions on outbound travel from here for many months.
The US received about 2.2 crore international visitors last year, down 72% from 2019. Mexico (1.04 crore) and Canada (25.3 lakh) — that share a land border with Uncle Sam — occupied the top two slots as source countries.
India was the third largest overseas source country (not sharing land border with the US) with 4.3 lakh visitors from here, next only to Colombia (10.6 lakh) and UK (4.6 lakh), according to US department of commerce data.
In terms of spending by overseas visitors (not including airfares) in America, Indians were the third highest. The commerce department’s data shows US travel and tourism-related exports in 2021 was at $81 billion. Of this, Mexico accounted for $11.7 billion, China at $9 billion and India at $5.8 billion.
The 4.3 lakh visitors from India were 71% lower than pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Once in line with the global trend the US also relaxes the pre-departure testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers from India, travel will again grow at a much faster pace. This will be a further boost when sky-high jet fuel prices fall globally, enabling airfares to return to saner levels.
India’s biggest online travel platform MakeMyTrip (MMT) its data shows travel from India to the US “has recovered by 60% over pre-Covid levels, with month-on-month bookings growing by 40%” since January 2022.
“With strong recovery, the advance booking window continues to remain similar to pre-pandemic days. About 60% of booking are made for travel within a month from the date of booking, and the rest are being made for any time after 30 days. New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston are the most visited cities by Indians travelling to the US. Currently, majority of the bookings are being made by families and couples visiting friends and relatives, and professionals travelling for work,” a MMT spokesperson said.
Like most countries globally, the US also limited both inbound and outbound international travel in 2020 and most of 2021 to slow the spread of Covid-19. It lifted those restrictions on November 8, 2021.
“In June 2020, international travel arrivals were minus 95% compared to 2019 levels… by October 2021, internal arrivals were minus 72%. Following the end of restrictions on international travel to and from the US in early November 2021, international inbound travel accelerated. Still, by December 2021, international arrivals remained 50% below 2019 levels,” US National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) said in a fact sheet on the issue.
International arrivals to the US increased 15 lakh (+82%) during the last three months of 2021.
And where did Americans go to last year? NTTO data shows Mexico was the top international destination for US travellers, unchanged from 2020 and 2019. Caribbean was the second ranked destination in 2021, unchanged from 2020 but surpassing both Canada and Europe from 2019.