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.
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.
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.