After over a year of Covid restrictions and limited movement, people are gradually stepping into the world of travel again. We speak to an industry expert for insights on the future-ready ecosystem for international travel.

Your views on the revival of the global travel industry?

Over the last six months, we have seen travel gain hope with gradual re-opening of borders, travel bubbles, and vaccination drives in progress. However, there were setbacks in some regions with lockdowns due to a second or even third fierce wave of infections. In a situation so dynamic, it would be premature to hazard estimates for timelines for a complete revival. That said, historically, the travel industry has been a resilient force that has endured many such adversities, from economic slowdowns to war to terror attacks, having bounced back effectively.

Today, even as the Covid-19 virus keeps resurfacing in various geographies, the hope to travel again remains afloat as an intrinsic aspect of our lives. Another catalyst encouraging cautious yet willing consumers to take steps towards reconnecting with the world is the overall digitisation of the travel processes.

Tech-enabled changes in the way we go through the travel process, from online research and booking to digital navigation and no-contact travel experiences, have been crucial in confidence-building for the sector globally. It will be interesting to see how the industry prepares itself to address this pent-up demand with new dimensions of health and safety considerations becoming strong driving forces for the sector. Holistic efforts in overcoming the current challenges will bring a steady recovery to the travel sector worldwide.

What are the measures being adopted by VFS Global to create a future-ready travel eco-system for international travel? 

As a global market leader, a hallmark of our 20-year journey has been coming up with future-ready innovations that have set benchmarks for the visa application services industry. In fact, some of our tech innovations from the pre-pandemic era hold greater relevance now and these efforts only continue to gain focus as we look to address evolving customer needs.

With a focus on contactless experience, we are now enabling customers to apply or have document pre-checks remotely, provide digital payment alternatives, have expanded our popular Visa At Your Doorstep service (VAYD) that allows enrollment of biometrics from home, and introduced two-way passport pickup and drop so the customer does not need to visit the centre.

We are constantly working together with stakeholders across the value chain – travel trade, governments, technology partners, businesses – to meet new customer needs, develop partnerships that help integrate health and safety measures into every step of the travel process, foster awareness, and generate demand within the travel ecosystem.

Additionally, we have also introduced pre-departure testing in around 40 countries, where travellers can book an appointment for the Covid-19 test from the comfort of their homes. As a responsible organisation, our efforts are not only focused on making these existing services more efficient, but also ensuring a better customer experience.

We have also set up chatbot help desks to improve turnaround times and reduce errors, and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) for our helplines. From a health consideration perspective, we have collaborated with technology companies like Accredify (Singapore) to explore/manage the issuance of tamper-proof and verifiable health certificates for travel (and quicker immigration clearance) on certain routes (eg. for travel from Indonesia to Singapore). Management of these health certificates is an initiative we expect to extend to several other travel corridors in the coming months.

Overall, we are looking to further increase process efficiencies for a customer-centric, leaner, technologically advanced, resilient VFS Global for the future. As an outcome of this pandemic, the hope is that the travel services industry will adopt models that are agile, forward-looking, and transformational to sustain us well into the future.

Are Indian travellers adopting more customised options/services?

Travellers from India and across the globe are now more cautious than ever about the way they will travel. Booking and travel patterns were already seeing shifts pre-Covid. Now, post-Covid, travellers have moved more confidently towards digital or personalised models, demonstrating a greater willingness to opt for safe and exclusive services offered at their doorsteps, be it visa application (the popularity of our Visa At Your Doorstep service is a testament to that) or online booking of flight tickets.

The introduction of each of our personalised and tech-enabled services has seen growing preference and adoption, post-Covid, be it digital applications or doorstep applications, delivered at the safety of a customer’s home.

Adapting to digital technology to provide contactless, safe, and remote services will help in gaining back the confidence of global travellers. While most governments and travel companies today have made some headway in their digitisation journeys, this pause in travel should serve as a cue for those who have not.

How can India’s travel industry collectively create a safer end-to-end travel experience for customers? 

Having introduced some advancements over the past year that have helped better screening and planning of travel, the road ahead will need the industry to create more sustainable interventions that seamlessly integrate health and travel.

From visiting an airport to researching destinations and how to have a safe travel experience, health and safety measures are of paramount consideration for travellers now, and offering a ‘contactless’ or digital experience going forward will be crucial.

As an outcome, the travel services industry is likely to adopt more of these models – from travel planning to customer engagement, with greater assurance for sanitation standards, wider scope of travel insurance, and safety considerations.