Tourism accounts for 7.1% of Africa’s GDP and contributes US$169bn to the continent’s economy. But the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that 100 million tourism-related jobs have already been lost globally, including nearly eight million in Africa, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This highlights the need to reignite tourism locally, while following safety protocols to make travellers safe and confident to travel once again, says Jiten Vyas, Regional Group Chief Operating Officer – Australasia, China, Africa and Europe.
He points out that, as international travel slowly returns, businesses in the industry need to pivot to stay competitive and profitable. In the Q&A below, Vyas unpacks some of the key changes that will make customers’ journey safer, more convenient and seamless for travel in a post-COVID world.
Q. The global pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we travel. What does this mean for the travel industry?
A: We are very conscious of the fact that in a post-COVID world, health considerations take precedence. From Visa Application Centres (VAC) to airports, or sightseeing at destinations, people will be looking for assurance that all touchpoints are safe during their journey.
Thus, at every step of the visa application process, there needs to be a focus on providing that assurance to customers and client governments, including standardised health and safety measures.
Q. Consumers in the post-COVID world are putting more emphasis on safety and convenience. How is the visa industry catering for their evolving demands?
A: The pandemic has changed customer behaviour, with customers now showing a greater willingness to pay a premium for exclusivity and online or at-home services. As an example, we are scaling up our Visa at Your Doorstep (VAYD) service across various countries, allowing customers to complete visa submission and biometrics in the comfort and safety of their homes and offices.
We have also partnered with local leading laboratories in 43 countries to offer pre-departure COVID-19 tests through an innovative and seamless appointment booking system.
Q. What about equipping employees for the future?
A: Businesses need to understand that a company is only as good as its people. Overall learning and development should not be a tick-box activity but a deliberate business strategy, closely aligned with company objectives. Because our business is fast-moving, we constantly train and retrain our employees located in 140-plus countries of operations in core competencies that best match evolving business goals.
Even when the pandemic forced employees to work remotely, the learning didn't stop. Instead, we put additional emphasis on digital learning and enabled and delivered value-creating efforts by adapting programmes and delivery.
Q. How will the industry remain resilient and future-proof?
A: In our 20th year of operations, we have witnessed some of the biggest paradigm shifts in the travel services industry, which underlines the importance of being future-ready, not just for our organisation but for the industry as a whole.
Now that digital solutions such as Health Passports and Certificates are becoming more prevalent, VFS Global is helping to digitise authentic test results.
We want to support any solution that helps travellers and are actively looking into integrating with several other platforms, Iata’s Travel Pass included, and continue to enhance collaborative efforts between governments and other companies to offer a safer and convenient experience for travellers.
Given the current scenario, eVisas are being viewed as a sustainable way of minimising touchpoints and opting for contactless journeys. The solution also serves as an advantage for consulates or embassies, as this move to a digital interface could help free up the consular staff to focus on the crucial activities of decision-making, leading to enhanced time and cost-efficiency. A set of pre-verified online documents can also mean a potential integration with immigration watch-lists to help identity fraud.