Jiten Vyas is Chief Commercial Officer at VFS Global.
The global wave of revenge travel that exceeded industry projections remains strong as we enter 2023. Despite the resurgence of Covid-19 cases reported in many parts of the world, embassies are still inundated with visa applications from tourists, business travelers, and students, among others. In certain markets, the unexpected surge in demand resulted in limited visa appointment availability and stretched timelines on visa decisions, but industry stakeholders have taken the experience as a learning curve.
Given the positive outlook for the coming year, governments are enhancing capacity planning for the upcoming peak season. At the same time, visa applicants worldwide have learned the benefits of planning for visas as much as for their actual trips. Changing demand patterns are likely to stir wider acceptance of seamless solutions such as e-Visas and e-Visas on arrival (e-VOAs). According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer estimates, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded, which is nearly half of the pre-pandemic levels. Regions that have countries offering e-Visa solutions like Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East were among the key growth drivers of renewed travel. VFS Global alone processed more than 200,000 e-Visa or e-VOA applications globally between January and November 2022.
Today, 44 countries around the world offer some form of electronic visa solution for travelers — and we expect more to follow. As improving technology continues to facilitate newer applications in the travel and tourism industry, the potential for global travelers to benefit is extensive, as they will find a range of services tailored to specific requirements, irrespective of their country of origin or destination, all packaged in a smoother and more enjoyable experience.
It is imperative for countries looking at increasing their tourism inflows to consider improvising and investing in an enhanced smart visa solution. As an easier and more accessible visa application process, the e-Visa scheme can boost inbound tourism. This solution enables consular staff to focus their time on the core activity of decision-making and ensures there is zero cost to governments by implementing the ‘user pay model’. For instance, Indonesia, which attracted over 16 million foreign travelers (including tourists) in 2019, recently launched the first-ever fast-track visa on arrival service for 86 nationalities in an effort to facilitate quicker and hassle-free immigration clearance and exit from the airport upon arrival.
An increasing number of travelers are also opting for at-home services such as Visa at Your Doorstep (VAYD), which enables applicants to experience the entire visa application booking from a location of their choice. VAYD applications in 2022 increased by over five times, and by over three times in 2021, as compared to 2020.
Going forward, the momentum is likely to grow further. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Economic Impact Report released in August 2022, GDP facilitated by travel and tourism is set to grow on average by 5.8% annually between 2022 and 2032, outpacing the growth of the overall economy (2.7% per year). The report added that travel and tourism GDP could return to 2019 levels by the end of 2023. Wider adoption of smart governance is likely to ease visa woes as governments would look for players with specialized domain competence and unique value proposition.