Even though the Indian market is fairly price-sensitive, the global trend towards personalisation is seen gaining popularity. Travelers are willing to spend more if it means the services offered will be more customized to their preferences.
The number of Indians heading out of the country will double to 50 million in the next three years as per World Tourism Organization. Are online travel aggregators making it easier to plan holidays? Has visa processing become simpler than before? Where are the Indians headed to for the holiday season? Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group Chief Operating Officer – Middle East, South Asia and China at VFS Global chats with Moneycontrol on travel trends.
VFS Global is an outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-discretionary tasks for its client.
Q) The number of Indians heading out of the country will double to 50 million in the next three years as per UNWTO. What are the reasons that would lead to this uptick in numbers?
In India, VFS Global recorded a rise of 14% in visa application in the first six months of 2018. This would be a good indication of the rise in foreign travel, since we serve 46 client governments in India, and as such, are the largest outsourced visa service provider here. Based on trends in visa application, I would say that the biggest growth in number of travellers keen to explore foreign shores is emerging from across the vast Indian landscape, primarily from the Tier 2 cities.
While visa application counts in the big cities remained largely consistent year-on year, we also observed a steep hike in growth rates from the smaller metros like, for instance, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Pune, and Ahmedabad, which had an average growth of 40% y-o-y in H1 2018.
So yes, the Indian traveller is truly coming of age, aided by more disposable incomes, and a cultural shift when it comes to exploring foreign shores. Certainly, what cannot be underestimated is the explosion of anywhere-anytime information and services offered online, that make the process of planning a foreign trip easy and convenient.
Q) Tell us about your observations at VFS Global? What is your analysis on people’s travel plans outside India?
Interestingly, the world over, we have observed tourism has been fairly resilient to global factors, such as currency rates or geopolitical upheavals. India continues to be an important source market when it comes to foreign travel, recording a steady year-on-year growth in outbound travel. The increasing affordability of travelling abroad, and many countries recognising the value of tourism to their economic agendas, are also determining factors in the consistent growth in this space.
As far as visa application goes, today, there is less anxiety associated with the visa process than maybe a decade ago, and far greater awareness about the options and services available to ease the process. At VFS Global, we have leveraged on technology to streamline the visa process to a great extent, increased the accessibility of visa centres by expanding our network to more cities, and have introduced a range of optional services aimed at making the visa application process hassle-free and even more convenient.
Q) What are the facilities VFS Global provides to clients? How much value addition has been done over the years?
Innovations in many aspects of the visa process are introduced routinely for visa applicants, such as form-filling assistance, the ability to keep your passport while applying to multiple countries, priority visa services, etc. Apart from this, and of course the full gamut of the more traditional visa application services, we recognise the value of offering ‘bespoke’ or tailor-made solutions for applicants, that offer greater personalisation, accessibility and flexibility in the visa process.
An immensely popular optional service is ‘Visa at your Doorstep’ where, in essence, the visa centre travels to your home. VFS Global staff visit the applicant’s location of choice in any city in the country to accept visa applications and enrol biometric data. Film crews, corporates, celebrities, large groups of travellers, travel agencies, and high net-worth individuals, find this service very useful. Since its launch in 2016, this service has proven to be particularly attractive for applicants in smaller cities as it eliminates the need to travel to another city to submit the visa applications.
Besides this, applicants find that our newly designed Premium Lounges offer the next level in comfort and personal service during their visit to our Visa Application Centres. Our mobile app for UAE visas is also very popular among applicants the world over – it is the first-ever transactional visa application app that allows applicants to apply for a visa from anywhere, anytime, at the touch of a button.
We recently introduced the first-ever visa services chatbot, ViVA, for visitors to the Australia visa services website in India. Akin to any highly trained customer support executive, ViVA offers visa applicants’ round-the-clock support with queries related to the Australia visa application process, such as most-asked queries about visa categories, rules and regulations, contact information, payment procedures, and optional services.
Q) Has India changed the way it travels? If yes then how?
Even though the Indian market is fairly price-sensitive, the global trend towards personalisation is seen here too. Travellers are willing to spend more if it means the services offered will be more customized to their preferences. Consider the popularity of Premium Lounges at the Visa Application Centres, where applicants receive personalised services in form-filling, managing documentation, and biometric enrolment.
Of course, the use of mobile apps in travel is growing – right from the stage of the traveller getting inspired on where to visit, to the visa application process, to booking flights and hotels, to building daily itineraries or navigating in a foreign country – there’s an app for virtually everything. The younger generation of Indians is extremely savvy about these changes, and is sophisticated enough to demand the next level of convenience in services.
Q) Give us the top 5 favoured destinations and also tell us if there’s any new place that’s suddenly found a place in the Indian traveller’s itinerary?Even as things change, the popularity of some destinations stays evergreen! Popular destinations for which visas are processed are the US, the UK, the Schengen group of countries, Malaysia, Canada, and PR China, amongst others.