Chris Dix is Head of Business Development at VFS Global.
When international borders started to open in mid-2021, the travel and tourism industry expected a slow recovery, primarily due to the numerous travel restrictions still in place, coupled with an uneven vaccine rollout globally. However, this summer, the surge in travel activity has taken the industry by surprise, exceeding the conservative recovery projections. Despite the fact that the effects of the pandemic are still prevalent in certain parts of the world, embassies are being inundated with visa applications from customers who are very keen to travel.
Globally, visa application volumes received by VFS Global between January and May this year grew by more than 100% compared to the same period last year. This increase is primarily driven by the high pent-up travel demand. With the opening of international borders, easing of travel restrictions, and the resumption of regular international flights, the industry is currently witnessing peak ‘revenge travel’. For example, in India, one of the top source markets for the company, visa applications are averaging more than 20,000 per day as we head into the July–August holiday season. These numbers include travelers visiting Canada, Europe, and the UK, along with other popular destinations. We are also expecting an extended summer travel season this year with planned international trips stretching right through to September.
While the confidence of travelers is an important element in travel recovery, resilience and agility in restarting our own operations have also played a key role. Keeping pace with the changes, our businesses have become even more customer-centric, resilient, and efficient right across our global network of over 140 countries. As a result, by December 2020, we were able to resume operations in 1,600 visa application centers (more than half our global network), catering to over 50 government clients across 129 countries. As of mid-July, two thirds of our application center network is back up and running.
Health considerations and prioritizing safe travel have become key determining factors. Changing customer expectations have fueled the emergence of contactless and DIY technologies. We have noticed wider acceptance of digital services that can enhance customer convenience by minimizing physical contact points. In line with this philosophy, we introduced services such as ‘digital document check’, which enables customers to have documents verified before visiting a visa application center, making the experience less time-consuming. Similarly, our ‘visa at your doorstep’ service provides customers with an end-to-end visa submission service at a location of their choice. This popular service can now be booked through WhatsApp in some markets.
Innovation will continue to be the catalyst for change. Governments are looking for new technologies that will enable a smoother international journey. A partner with the right technological competence and value proposition can play an essential role in helping to accelerate governments’ adoption of outsourcing services as well as ease cross-border mobility.