New Delhi, June 6 : As one of the worst affected industries in the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry stands to undergo several updates in both behaviour and process, in order to keep up with the new world order. Technology will play a key role in the imminent evolution of the travel industry, to make visa applications safer and more efficient for travelers and travel companies alike.
The Coronavirus pandemic has altered life as we know it - from the way we do grocery runs to the way the world will travel. It has also added a filter of 'caution' to every 'outdoor' activity we took for granted. Travel though, is still high on people's aspirational list. And the world will travel again - in the mid-term, it might just not look the same.
Global Web Index recently quoted that a whopping 87 percent of consumers in the Asia/Pacific region expect to make changes to the way they travel. However, the mere reopening of borders is not enough for people to start travelling again. Travellers will first want to regain faith that the ecosystem is safe - right from travel planning to visa applications, the airport-airplane journey and the country of visit. This change in social behaviour will not just stem from government and health regulators, but more from people's lingering fear of catching the infection, even once the situation is brought under control. So, while we will see higher standards of sanitation, provisions for social distancing, and instant medical support in physical environments, the digital space will see demand for services that could be completed "from the safety of one's home".
But how does that work for the first travel pit stop - your visa? Visa applications have traditionally been an in-person process, requiring customers to submit applications and/or biometrics in person for many destinations. In a post-COVID scenario, new processes, aided by technology, will be preferred over traditional methods of application at least in some elements of this crucial aspect of the travel planning process. Tools that allow travellers to complete their visa application processes keeping physical distancing in mind, in a place they feel safe, will be preferred as would-be travellers begin to define their new normal.
Tech-driven game-changes in visa services An important aspect of visa applications is the documentation often required to be submitted with the visa application. Today even before travel limps back to normal, for some travellers, the idea of having one's original documents going through multiple hands could spark unease. Technology that can enable travellers to scan and upload their documents through their smartphones, tablets, printer-scanner or other camera-equipped computing devices will be a game-changer for the sector.
Another trend is in greater use of automated or AI-powered systems that allow governments to remotely assess digital versions of various government-issued documents (just like the VFS Global-developed Location Independent Document ProcessingTM - or LIDPRoTM - solution used by some governments). Yet another is technology that allows authorities to authenticate such documents before receiving the physical copies, to help keep the process secure, safe and efficient for both the individual and the authorities.
At-home biometric enrolment Along with these, biometrics form a crucial and often mandatory part of the visa application process. Secure and authenticated biometrics are not something people can submit easily through an online channel, while also conforming of the standards laid down by the respective Governments. In order to meet the needs of tomorrow's travellers, the most logical upgrade to make is taking biometrics systems to the customer's doorstep. This is not only convenient, but also limits exposure to multiple people - all while ensuring a secure biometric enrollment for visa applications. This service, called 'Visa At Your Doorstep' or 'On Demand Mobile Visa', has already been employed by many countries assessing visa applications from India, and has witnessed significant uptake by travellers for safety and convenience reasons.
Another solution to look forward to is e-Visas. A solution that simplifies and streamlines the visa lifecycle by moving the entire application and issuance process online. It does not require the traveller to be present at the embassy or application centre, interview with visa officials or enrolment of biometrics to apply for a visa. This solution has seen great success in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Suriname, among others. We anticipate eVisa adoption may be at a much larger scale now - when people are wary of being in crowded public spaces and prefer having as limited physical touch points as possible.
While a majority of governments and travel companies today are well into their digitalisation journey, this pandemic is an impetus for all those who are not. Marrying innovative technology to travel is going to be at the forefront of international travel recovery - which assures traveller safety and data security, in equal measure. Turning visa applications into an at-home affair also means a spike in the quantum of personal data that will now interact on the cloud. This is unarguably the time for businesses to beef up their digital protection and security protocols, as they wait to greet this default upsurge in 'digital travellers' on the other side of this crisis.
Vinay Malhotra is Regional Group COO - South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Americas at VFS Global (IANSlife can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)