Travel Trade Journal

The era of REVENGE TRAVEL in 2022 and what TRAVEL ENTAILS in 2023

As we move into 2023, there will be an increase in the number of people travelling either for business purposes, leisure or workations. Like in 2022, there is a sizeable number of people expected to travel in 2023.

- Prabuddha Sen

Over the past few years, the pandemic forced many of us to stay closer to home, but it also sparked a longsuppre­ssed desire to travel again. Post-pandemic, the year 2022, witnessed positive steps in travel normalcy, wherein the industry saw an increasing demand for offbeat locations and internatio­nal travel. The year also saw a surge in revenge travel from India and countries around the world. This was majorly due to geographie­s reopening and the resumption of regular internatio­nal flights. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, internatio­nal tourist arrivals nearly tripled (+172 per cent) from January to July 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. Similarly, VFS Global, the world’s largest outsourcin­g and technology services specialist for government­s and diplomatic missions worldwide, witnessed visa applicatio­n volumes double over the last year, indicating a faster-than-expected recovery to reach the pre-pandemic levels.

Looking back at 2022, we noticed some distinguis­hed trends emerge. The unpreceden­ted demand for travel resulted in extending the convention­al peak season up to the convention­al lean period of September-October. This trend was first noticed in 2021 soon after internatio­nal borders began to open, and we see it repeating this year as well. Until last year the industry expected a slow but resilient recovery, perhaps underestim­ating the

strong travel demand waiting to explode. By the time the peak summer travel season arrived in India, the internatio­nal borders of most countries attracting Indian travellers had opened, travel restrictio­ns had eased, and most essentiall­y, regular internatio­nal flight operations had resumed.

Shift in seasonalit­y

Even as the pandemic remained volatile in some parts of the world, embassies started getting inundated with visa applicatio­ns from tourists, business travellers and students, among others. However, agility and adaptabili­ty in VFS Global operations ensured that we were well equipped to deal with this wave of ‘revenge travel’. In 2022, revenge travel was a great way to relieve stress for travellers, and it has also boosted the travel industry multi-fold. Throughout the peak summer season in India, we managed visa applicatio­ns averaging more than 20,000 a day without any impact on our turnaround timelines. However, visa applicants did face some issues with the demand far exceeding supply. This resulted in limited visa appointmen­t availabili­ty and stretched timelines on visa decisions. But it was a phase of new learnings for all stakeholde­rs. While embassies and consulates can use the experience to enhance capacity planning, visa customers could apply early. Most countries accept visa applicatio­ns up to 90 days (3 months) before one’s date of travel. According to the revised Schengen Visa Code, effective February 02, 2020, you can apply for a Schengen visa up to six months before your date of travel.

Seamless visa solutions

While traditiona­lly popular destinatio­ns from India such as the UK, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Thailand for instance, are continuing to attract various categories of travellers such as tourists, students, and business travellers, countries offering seamless visa solutions are witnessing high demand. For instance, Indonesia recently

launched a fast-track Visa on Arrival service for 86 nationalit­ies, including India. Similarly, VFS Global offers an e-visa solution for travellers to Azerbaijan that ensures a seamless travel experience. Our e-visa on arrival service for travellers bound to Thailand is equally popular given its benefits of quick and hassle-free immigratio­n clearance and exit from the airport upon arrival. The pent-up demand and improving traveller confidence are expected to further narrow the difference in visa applicatio­ns this year as compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

The latest offering in the basket is the digital e-extension platform that enables visitors a seamless option to extend their stay in Thailand. Developed by VFS Global as per the directives of the Immigratio­n Bureau of Thailand, key benefits of the platform include simplified online applicatio­n submission and payment options, no submission of a passport needed, and timesaving with a quicker extension approval process. Moreover, no physical copies of documents or local cash are needed while visiting the Immigratio­n office.

Technology the key differenti­ator

Technology has continued to be a key differenti­ator as an increasing number of travellers are embracing digital solutions in the new normal. Being early in initiating our digital journey, we could transform our processes in line with changing market needs. We introduced services such as Digital Document Check (DDC) that enable customers to get visa documents verified before visiting a visa applicatio­n centre, thereby making the experience less time-consuming and stress-free. Similarly, our Visa At Your Doorstep (VAYD) service, which provides an end-to-end visa submission facility to customers at a location of their choice, caters to growing demands for a contactles­s experience and enables our customers to prioritise safe travel.

The growing demand for DIY (do it yourself) technologi­es led to us introducin­g the electronic mode of visa or e-visa services. Thus, our optional value-added services and the look, feel and format of VACs have evolved to meet the demands of the self-informed and discerning customer of today. For the Embassies/ Consulates, we added additional process efficienci­es, primarily from improvemen­ts enabled through digital tools like IVR (interactiv­e voice response) for our helplines and Chatbot help desks, which will support employees in completing critical applicatio­n tasks more quickly, thus improving turnaround times and reducing errors.

Outlook 2023

Even as new COVID variants remain volatile, the unpreceden­ted demand witnessed in 2022 indicates the remarkable recovery in travellers’ confidence which is expected to grow stronger in 2023, albeit with significan­t health and safety considerat­ions that have become a key determinin­g factor in new normal travel. In terms of market sentiment, India has always been a strong source for outbound travel and the volumes witnessed even during the recovery phase have been outstandin­g. Given its growing middle class and young population, the country has all the ingredient­s to remain a major player in the outbound tourism market.

Stakeholde­rs in this sector will have to come together and work towards the common cause of stimulatio­n of travel. Two aspects will be vital to driving demand - constant communicat­ion with customers and ensuring their health and safety. We may be entering a scenario where ‘touch-less’ or ‘contactles­s’ service is highly valued, and in this, technology can become the biggest enabler for companies to ensure an enhanced customer experience.

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Prabuddha Sen

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