Ernest Wooden Jr., President and CEO, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, talks about the potential that India offers for Los Angeles and his plans to grow India market
Los Angeles welcomed about 45.6 mn visitors including around seven million international visitors in 2015. Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board is now working towards increasing the international visitors count to 10 mn. The Board has adopted multi-pronged approach to achieve this target
You have set a target of 50 million visitors by 2020 and already achieved 45.6 million in 2015. Most likely, you are going to welcome 50 million in next two years. Have you revised your target?
We were at around 42 million when I took charge in 2013. The work we do is not just sending out the brochure. We have a research team that studies the various aspects of any source market and we work accordingly. With the economic glamour of the city and the region of LA, if we get to 50 million visitors, this will mean that visitors will pay in taxes almost a billion dollar more and will employ more than 465,000 people in leisure and hospitality business which in effect makes the sector employer of one out of seven people in job. This 50 million was not a vanity number as it was deeply tied with growth and development of the city in the region.
Our next goal is to find who the best travellers are? We have 36-37 million domestic travellers. Our next goal is to grow our international visitors to 10 million from the current around seven million in next four years. India comes at the top of list in terms of the potential market. In 2015, Los Angeles welcomed 99,000 Indians, an increase of seven per cent compared to 2014. We expect the number of Indian visitors will grow by 4.8 per cent in 2016. But, we have the deep believe that the potential here is too enough. We know that only around 1.5 per cent Indians have travelled by air. We know airlines are looking at India and they are coming and providing air services. We also know that Indians like other nationals believe that travel is their human right. These things combined together will drive traffic from India. India will be like China. Ten years ago, China was not the top market for us but today China is number two market after Mexico. We believe that growth in India is going to be exponential.
The rate of growth from China was in double digit while the base is too broad. From India, the growth is in a single digit despite a lower base. Why the growth rate from India is lower?
The principal reason is for the slower growth from India is the airline lift. From China, not only American carriers but also mainland Chinese carriers are having direct flights to LA. We have more than 17,000 seats on non-stop weekly from China to LA. That’s the principle reason. We talk to airlines regularly in our main markets. Today, we met Air India and talked about their coming to LA at some given point of time. Also, during the meeting of the President of US and China it was agreed that 2016 will be marked as US-China Tourism Year. And, this gives a great platform to the travel industry to increase visitor numbers and enhance travel experiences between the two countries.
However, the flight accessibility for India is also increasing by Gulf carriers. We connect right now to 39 different countries and 77 cities.
What sort of infrastructural development and new products you are brining in LA?
We looked at why Indians visit LA and we identified 4 major areas and one of those is our attractions like Universal Studio, Hollywood, and Disney. Recently, we launched Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios which is the most technologically advanced so far, incorporating state-of-the-art 3-D effects with the traditional fun of the fair. It is a hugely attractive attraction. Our number one asset is our airport is going through US$ 8bn modernization. We first introduced Tom Bradley international new terminal and this gives us 9 gates more than any other airports in US. This program includes a project to connect the airport to the Metro transportation system. There is a huge investment in infrastructure. We just opened Peterson Museum. We opened up a $200 mn Broad Museum of Modern art and its largely free. In La, we have 109 museums. We have a rich tapestry that people can come and see. Our job is to try to communicate to travel trade and travellers.