After COVID-19, VFS Global customers opted for premium services

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In the aftermath of COVID-19, more and more VFS Global customers in India are opting for premium services to expedite the processing of their travel documents. VFS Global is the world’s leading visa outsourcing and technology specialist, working with governments and diplomatic missions around the world. According to Pranav Sinha, CEO of VFS Global in India and South Asia, since the epidemic hit Indian shores in March 2020, personalized services such as visas at your doorstep, digital application submission, verification of digital documents and eVisa have been popular.

Customers have shown increased interest in our more innovative and sophisticated services, such as the premium lounge, which provides a hands-on experience within the visa application center, and visa at your doorstep, which allows people to submit their applications from the comfort, convenience and safety of their home or office. Home service alone has seen a 3x increase in demand since 2020, a trend we expect to grow as travelers prioritize travel safety in the future.

In India, Zurich-based VFS serves 50 clients through a network of 567 Visa Application Centers across 17 locations. The travel industry should pay more attention to digitizing business operations and more governments to integrate biometric enrollment into their visa application process, Sinha said.

Changing customer expectations have fueled the emergence and acceptance of contactless and do-it-yourself technologies. Services such as visa to your doorstep, digital application submission, digital document verification, eVisa solutions, AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) products have gained better acceptance among customers.

The travel industry should pay even more attention to the digitization of business operations. From travel planning to visa applications and from airports to hotels, the industry is on the cusp of a shift towards end-to-end digital solutions. Travelers, on the other hand, will be looking for companies that offer them the luxury of carrying out their planning and booking processes from the comfort of their own home or serviced remotely by their trusted travel agent, and without the stress of being in crowded public spaces, avoiding too many human touchpoints. Online travel planners, door-to-door visa services, eVisa services, couriers for passport returns and self-check-in kiosks at airports will now become commonplace.

Travel dynamics are improving. According to a study by the World Travel and Tourism Council and Oxford Economics, the global travel industry has recovered more than 50% of its gross travel activity by 2021 and is expected to generate $2 trillion this year. According to the January 2022 barometer of the World Tourism Organization, world tourism increased by 4% in 20221 compared to 2020 (415 million passengers against 400 million).

Travel agencies will now focus on creating digital touchpoints to create a customer experience that lasts much longer than their vacation. Public health and advanced digital and sustainability standards will be the new wheels on which the travel industry will run – towards a smarter, safer and more sustainable future. VFS Global has always leveraged its technological capabilities to be more future-ready and provide our clients and clients with best-in-class services. For example, the visa application process has traditionally been paper-based, involving mostly physical interaction such as document verification and submission, payment, and biometric enrollment at visa application centers.

With services such as our appointment management system, digital document checks and visa at your doorstep, we have strived to provide candidates with a smoother customer journey while prioritizing safe travel to the future. In the coming years, we expect more governments to integrate biometric enrollment into their visa application process to further increase the security of the process. We are ready to support them with multiple biometric solutions to meet their requirements. The pandemic remains volatile in light of new variants, but it is too early to predict the impact in the coming months. Of course, the travel industry remains resilient and is focusing its efforts on a safe and robust recovery.

At VFS Global, in 2021, we have steadily resumed operations at all locations keeping the health and safety of customers and employees as our top priority, making the visa application process as digital as possible. Resilience and agility were key to restarting operations. As of April 2020, 3,196 Visa Application Centers (VACs) across our global network of 3,384 VACs were temporarily closed. However, beginning in December 2020, we began to reopen our VACs, and today we have resumed operations for 53 client governments in 137 countries through 2,180 VACs. The steady increase in visa applications to India demonstrates a strong intention to travel. As the restart period coincided with the peak student season in India, students made up a large portion of international travelers from India, followed by business travelers and tourists visiting families. VFS Global works in accordance with its Service Level Agreements with client governments. Our operations, locations and services are deployed in accordance with mission requirements. India is our location of operations with the largest workforce at VFS Global, accounting for approximately 35% of our global employee base. Our staff numbers are growing in proportion to our business needs, so it is difficult to predict how these numbers will grow.

Even though the travel outlook remains volatile following new COVID variants and geopolitical risks, the easing of travel restrictions and pent-up demand in India signal increased volumes this summer. The government’s decision to resume regular international flights from India is another boost for travel, and we hope to see an increase in outbound travel this year. With health considerations becoming a key part of traveler confidence, the availability of COVID precautionary doses would also encourage people to plan international trips from India. With the resumption of international flights, the reopening of borders and the easing of rules for entry into the world, we hope to see a healthy recovery in foreign travel in the years to come. However, health and safety will remain a priority when planning trips for the foreseeable future. It is essential to restore traveler confidence by prioritizing safe travel and making processes transparent through technology. In October 2021, Blackstone signed a binding agreement with EQT (another private equity firm) to acquire a majority stake in VFS Global. Subject to certain regulatory approvals, the transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022.

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