After JFK airport in New York, San Francisco has emerged as the number two gateway for Indians in the US which is mainly driven by the expansion and new non-stop flights of Air India, according to officials who were in Mumbai this week to explore avenues to tap the huge Indian market.
“Our market measurement shows there are about 1,100 passengers per day each way between San Francisco, the Bay Area and India,” Kevin Bumen, Chief Financial & Commercial Officer at San Francisco International Airport told PTI in an interview after concluding his two-day visit to Mumbai.
Air India, he said, has been a real bright spot during the pandemic with a carrier that grew and really made the most of a difficult market and made some big moves with their expansion in San Francisco.
“Today San Francisco is the number two gateway in the US behind John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). We're 17 flights a week. JFK has 21 flights a week. And if United Airlines were operating their full schedule, we (San Francisco) would be the number one airport in the US for India service. That would add an additional 14 flights a week if United was operating at full capacity,” he said.
Air India now has nonstop flights from San Francisco to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
“It's an exciting story,” said Bumen, who led a delegation of officials from San Francisco this week. The Indian travellers to San Francisco are now approaching the pre-pandemic level, said Hubertus Funke, executive vice president and chief tourism officer of the San Francisco Travel Association.
From a visitor volume perspective, San Francisco Airport had about 210,000 visitors in 2019.
“Now we are just getting to about 211,000 visitors this year,” he told PTI.
“That's a really good increase from last year and we're expecting double-digit growth out of India for the next couple of years as well. So, we're seeing a lot of potential out of the Indian market. We know that it was a very strong market before and we kind of want to continue the trend and see what we can do to really leverage these opportunities moving forward,” he said.
A primary focus of this visit was to underscore India's significance as one of the fastest-growing overseas visitor markets for San Francisco. The delegates are dedicated to creating immersive travel experiences and strengthening cultural ties for Indian tourists visiting San Francisco.
India, one of the fastest-growing overseas visitor markets for San Francisco, has emerged as a key focus area for SFO and SFTA. In 2022,
India ranked among San Francisco's top five visitor markets, with 150,000 visitors welcomed. Visitor volume from India is set to grow by 34 per cent in 2023, a testament to the strong ties between the two regions, a media release said.
During their stay in Mumbai from October 9th to 10th, the delegates held meetings with key stakeholders. These interactions involved exploring avenues for fostering mutual understanding, cooperation and potential collaborations in the future.
"The cultural richness and economic vibrancy of India resonate deeply with San Francisco's spirit. We are committed to fostering stronger ties and enhancing mutual understanding between our two regions. India's exponential growth as a visitor market fuels our enthusiasm to create compelling travel experiences for Indian tourists in San Francisco," Funke said.
Bumen said India holds immense potential for San Francisco.
“San Francisco International Airport is proud to be the premier international gateway to the West Coast, ensuring seamless travel experiences for Indian travellers. Our aim is to further strengthen this connection, making SFO the preferred choice for travellers from India," he said.
Funke said in addition to the number of Indians travelling to the US through San Francisco, there has been a significant growth in the number of visitors spending out of India.
“For 2023, we're expecting that number to be almost USD 440 million and then for 2024, we're expecting another 63 per cent in spend from Indian visitors,” he said in response to a question.
“The potential that we're seeing is very important and that is obviously manifested by the demand in airlift as well and especially the expansion that Air India has given to SFO. We are seeing really good potential for the next few years also from a visitor standpoint,” he said.