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‘We want the process of receiving a visa to the US become more seamless’

Elliott L. Ferguson, II Elliott L. Ferguson, II

Elliott L. Ferguson, II, President and CEO, Destination DC and National Chair, U.S. Travel Association speaks about changing perception about Washington DC

Destination DC recently organized successful roadshow in New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. India is now Washington DC’s third largest overseas market with a doubling of arrivals in last five years with 117,000 visitors in 2018 which accounts to a market share of 8.5 per cent.

How would you explain the overall performance of the tourism in 2019?

There was a lot of ups and down in 2019 but overall the international outlook to Washington DC and the USA continue to remain strong. While some markets were down, others rebounded. China is our number one market and there was some slippage. We have data for 2017-18 as of now, but all indications for 2018-19 were optimistic and there has been a lot of rebound in some of the key markets. India is our third largest inbound market and we did see a slight slippage from 2017 to 2018. However, there has been strong growth from India market in the last five years. There is a lot of interest in the India market to travel to the US. We are here to include Washington DC as a part of the Indian itinerary.

Initially, there was a perception that Washington DC was all about museums. How the ‘DC Cool’ campaign has helped change the opinion of travelers?

Washington as a city is perceived as a day trip destination. Travelers wanted to take a picture in front of the White House and visit one museum. The reality is we have 16 free museums. The whole DC Cool campaign was created to focus on the other aspects of what we offer which may not resonate so easily such as nightlife, theatres, sporting events, restaurants, shopping, outdoor activities, etc. The latest innovation of the campaign is ‘Discover the Real DC’, which allows us to take DC Cool to another level.

Last year, there was a slight slippage in inbound to US. You recently launched ‘Stay Local DC’ campaign. Is this a strategy to increase domestic traffic to compensate for inbound decline?

This campaign is to attract people who are local and living in a close radius. We are looking to influence people to take advantage of lower hotel rates and enjoy sporting event, concert, theatre and want people to take a vacation at home. The campaign was launched in January and tied to the months where tourism is significantly slower. The campaign works well for us as it has been received very well. We had a campaign in February earlier during Valentines, that was the Date Nights DC, which has been revamped.

As a destination, have you added any new attraction or introduced any new festival?

We are excited about two new memorials and two museums. We have a new memorial to celebrate the accomplishments of President Dwight Eisenhower which will open this year. Another memorial in front of the American Indian Smithsonian Museum, which is to celebrate the efforts by the American Indian community during the global wars. We have two new museum, The Children’s Museum and The Planet Word Museum. Also, the metro system which runs across DC, will expand to Dallas Airport. Those who are flying Air India, can come easily and cost effectively by Metro to downtown Washington within an hour.

US witnessed a decline of close to 1.5 per cent in arrivals last year. Experts feel that it’s a result of the so called ‘Trump Slump’. What is your take on this?

People make decisions for variety of reasons. There was an economic slowdown in many countries. In UK, we saw decrease when Brexit was announced. With a lot of political turmoil and economic issues in Brazil, we saw a downturn, but now we see a change in pace of the visitation. Some of it can be tied to politics, but lot of it is other variables. Currently, the Canadian Dollar is weaker than US Dollar, which is bad for tourism as it is not much affordable due to exchange rate. Interest remains, we market our efforts through Brand USA to make sure that the global community travels to the USA.

Earlier, a lot of destinations from USA were aggressive in their promotions in India, but now there has been a slowdown in their approach. Is India not an attractive market anymore?

We all have to take very conscious decisions when there is a downturn in visitation in certain markets. A lot of the funding are tied to hotel taxes, if these taxes are not generated, we have to make temporary cuts. I say temporary as Brand USA sees the value of being relevant in India market and those destinations must have perhaps decided to focus on domestic travel for whatever reason and specific markets will be back. We all are waiting to see what happens to the economy here and want to benefit from how the Indian traveler is more and more travelling outbound. The process of obtaining visa has to be easier.  The options in terms of flights has to be there.

As the US Presidential Elections are around the corner, as an industry leader what are your three major demands from your future Government?

Specifically, we want the process of receiving a visa to become more seamless, we want a focus on long term visa as we now have in Brazil and China for certain markets. We would like the Government to focus on visa waiver countries. We want more focus on infrastructure from transportation, airports to roads and public transport. All administration understands the importance of tourism, but we want them into conversations and narratives from our elected representatives for 2021 and beyond.

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