Tech-led solutions key to restore confidence in international travel

ByHindustan Times
Nov 14, 2022 04:50 PM IST

The article has been authored by Prabuddha Sen, COO (South Asia), VFS Global.

International travel in the new normal has changed, but the momentum of recovery towards pre-pandemic level has been a lot faster than expected. According to the most recent UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism increased by 182% year-on-year in January-March 2022, with locations throughout the world welcoming an anticipated 117 million international arrivals, up from 41 million in Q1 2021. An added 76 million foreign arrivals in the first three months were reported in March, indicating that the recovery is gaining traction.

International travel in the new normal has changed, but the momentum of recovery towards pre-pandemic level has been a lot faster than expected.
International travel in the new normal has changed, but the momentum of recovery towards pre-pandemic level has been a lot faster than expected.

The number of visa applications globally grew by more than a 100% compared to the same period last year. In India itself, the average number of visa applications stand at 20,000 a day, driven primarily by pent-up demand and revenge travel. The world is on the move again, but this is likely to be met with cautious optimism and some lingering apprehension. The road to recovery will depend on the speed with which industry players re-establish travellers’ trust.

Health considerations and safer travel options have become important deciding factors. Customer expectations have shifted, stimulating the growth of contactless and DIY technologies which are gaining more popularity. Services such as Digital Application Submission, Digital Document Check and eVisa Solutions that improve customer conveniences and reduce physical interactions are gaining momentum. While all these developments will be good for the overall growth of the industry, travelers might need to adapt to the digital process and be more aware of the rapidly changing rules. This is where travel trade stakeholders could play an important role by ensuring an efficient and smooth travel planning process to rebuild traveller confidence. Keeping health and safety top of mind, providing accurate information on travel rules and regulations and regular reviews of consumer priorities and concerns will be critical in bringing back the pre-Covid momentum.

While consumer trust is crucial in travel recovery, resilience, and speed in resuming business operations have also been critical. It is vital for businesses to provide their customers the best possible resources and support as we move into a period of resurgence post the pandemic. If the industry does not act to improve capacity today, the ecosystem may crumble under the strain, leading to a negative impact on the overall travel experience for consumers as well. For instance, keeping up with the times, organisations like VFS Global has grown even more customer-centric, robust, and efficient across our worldwide network of more than 140 countries. For instance, by December 2021, in South Asia, we had resumed operations in 385 Visa Application Centres (more than 61% of our network), catering to over 52 client governments across 28 cities in this region. And, as of today our entire application centre network is operational.

Technology as we know will continue to be a key growth driver. Tech-driven innovations will play two critical roles: Stimulate greater innovation and business integration and make the new normal international travel more seamless. In addition to easing customer experience, technology-led solutions are expected to ramp up client capabilities. Improving operational efficiencies, strengthening process controls, offering customer centric added value services, and ensuring highest levels of security will continue to be the focus areas. As borders open, governments throughout the world are exploring options to offer easier international travel for enhancing citizen interactions, strengthening data security controls, and increasing overall safety. A commercial partner with the appropriate technology capability and attractive proposition will play an important role in accelerating government adoption to outsourcing which would support the overall cross-border mobility.

While travel demand will continue to strengthen, the dynamics are going to be vastly different. To stay resilient and become future-ready, businesses would need to develop a better grasp of consumer preferences, become aware of their ever-changing travel behaviours, continually innovate to meet the new and evolving market trends, and engage suitably with each stakeholder.

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