Eric Garcetti on India Travel: Visa Wait Times, Growing Tourism, and Cricket

Skift Take

A lot of Indians are waiting a long time to visit the U.S. Eric Garcetti wants to generate the same excitement in U.S. travelers about visiting India.

There’s a big demand from Indian tourists to visit the U.S., but there’s not as much demand the other way around.

Eric Garcetti, U.S. Ambassador to India, thinks that’s starting to change — and he’s pushing to enhance demand on both sides. 

“Americans don’t know India and Indians like India and Indians know America and Americans. I think there’s an awakening happening now, so this is going to be more of a two-way street,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti, former two-term Los Angeles mayor, shared his thoughts about how to grow that momentum during the Skift India Summit on Wednesday.

Garcetti discussed roadblocks and opportunities around visas and tourism in particular, as well as the potential for cricket on the world stage. 

Long Visa Wait Times

Garcetti said he was specifically asked by U.S. President Joe Biden to work on reducing the backlog of visa applications for Indians. 

“I don’t know this for sure, but I bet it’s the only time the United States president has told the ambassador, ‘Please work on visa issues,’” Garcetti said.  

Wait times were as high as 1,000 days after restrictions were lifted post-pandemic. Now, the wait time is down to about 250 days, he said.

The embassy released a statement in January that it had processed a record-breaking 1.4 million U.S. visas in 2023. There are already 5 million Indians that have U.S. visas, usually valid for a decade, Garcetti said.

Garcetti said the embassy achieved the wait time reduction by building out facilities and making processes more efficient, but there’s more work to be done as demand grows. 

Tourism To and From India

There’s a new airport opening in India each week, Garcetti said. 

And Indian airlines are expanding quickly, driven by the growing middle class. 

Indian airlines added 112 aircraft in 2023, and there are orders for more than 1,000 under way. 

Budget airline Indigo has the largest share, with 342 aircraft as of 2023 and an order placed last year for 500 more. 

“Indigo … it’ll be the number one airline probably in the world in a couple years, in terms of passenger volume,” Garcetti said. 

Air India ordered 470 aircraft, and its CEO said during the Skift India Summit that he wants to restore the brand as a “top-tier and world-class airline.”

Part of Garcetti’s role involves working with airlines to add new routes and grow their business without too many roadblocks in India. 

Next, there’s work to be done in building out the tourism infrastructure in India — part of the reason he believes few Americans visit. 

“I think there’s a lot of work to be done to promote India as a tourism destination. And then flip that — I really want to bring more Indians to America,” Garcetti said.

Potential for Cricket on the World Stage

Garcetti has been a proponent of cricket, a popular sport in India. 

He announced last year, during an International Olympic Committee meeting held in Mumbai, that the sport will be part of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. 

Garcetti believes it’s only a matter of time before it becomes popular in other parts of the world. And everyone involved will benefit economically. 

“I think it’ll take about a decade,” Garcetti said. “But here’s your investment tip: Invest in major league cricket now; the payoff will be big in the future. It’s kind of like major league soccer — everybody said it wasn’t going to succeed, and now those teams are so big.”

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