San Francisco, often referred to as the Golden Gate City, is making waves as the second-busiest gateway for Indians in the United States, second only to the iconic John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York. This impressive achievement is largely attributed to the remarkable expansion and introduction of new non-stop flights by Air India, a testament to the airline’s resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Bumen, the Chief Financial & Commercial Officer at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), shared insights during his recent visit to Mumbai, where he explored opportunities to tap into the burgeoning Indian market. According to Bumen, their market analysis indicates that approximately 1,100 passengers travel daily in each direction between San Francisco, the Bay Area, and India. This staggering figure underscores the growing demand for direct flights between these regions.
Air India has played a pivotal role in this development, seizing the opportunity to expand its operations in San Francisco during challenging times. Currently, San Francisco hosts 17 flights per week, only slightly trailing JFK, which boasts 21 weekly flights. Bumen noted that if United Airlines were operating at full capacity, San Francisco would claim the top spot with an additional 14 weekly flights. Air India now offers nonstop flights connecting San Francisco to New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore.
Hubertus Funke, Executive Vice President and Chief Tourism Officer of the San Francisco Travel Association, stated that Indian travelers to San Francisco are nearing pre-pandemic levels, a promising sign for the region’s tourism industry. In 2019, San Francisco Airport welcomed around 210,000 visitors. This year, the numbers are already approaching 211,000, demonstrating steady growth. Funke anticipates double-digit growth from the Indian market in the coming years.
A primary objective of the recent visit to Mumbai was to underscore India’s significance as one of San Francisco’s fastest-growing overseas visitor markets. The delegation from San Francisco is dedicated to creating immersive travel experiences and strengthening cultural ties for Indian tourists visiting the city.
India has emerged as a key focus area for SFO and SFTA (San Francisco Travel Association). In 2022, India ranked among San Francisco’s top five visitor markets, with 150,000 visitors welcomed. The year 2023 is expected to witness a 34% growth in visitor volume from India, emphasizing the strong ties between the two regions.
During their stay in Mumbai, the delegates engaged in meetings with key stakeholders, exploring avenues for mutual understanding, cooperation, and potential collaborations. These interactions aim to enhance the cultural richness and economic vibrancy shared between India and San Francisco.
Both Bumen and Funke expressed their enthusiasm for the future of Indian tourism in San Francisco. Bumen highlighted SFO’s commitment to being the premier international gateway to the West Coast, striving to provide seamless travel experiences for Indian travelers. Funke, on the other hand, pointed out the substantial growth in visitor spending from India, with expectations of reaching nearly USD 440 million in 2023 and a further 63% increase in 2024.
The potential for growth in Indian tourism to San Francisco is not only evident in the demand for airlift but also in the deepening cultural and economic ties between the two regions. With Air India’s expansion paving the way, San Francisco looks forward to a bright future as a top destination for Indian travelers, offering a warm welcome to explore its vibrant and diverse culture.