With a few months left for the summer peak outbound season to begin in India, key travel sector stakeholders are better equipped to cater to the high travel demand. Meanwhile, VFS Global is reaching out to tier II and III cities to facilitate travellers apply for visas quickly and easily.
When the pandemic hit, VFS Global was caught off-guard as the outbound travel ceased completely. It did not have pandemic insurance and it had to quickly adapt to the situation. Prabuddha Sen, COO-South Asia, VFS Global, says, “We looked at how to control costs, to generate revenue from whichever stream was open at that time. As we crossed over the pandemic tide, the restart for India was quite a challenge. Suddenly, in March 2021 when the floodgates were opened, the demand that we saw in India was higher than what any of us or our client governments anticipated. While VFS Global could ramp up quickly to cater to this sudden demand, we did face challenges in terms of training and development.”
But the bigger problem, he adds, was that the demand far outweighed the supply. “We only take care of the administrative task. The diplomatic community had left India during COVID. So, there was a dearth of personnel handling the visa applications. What we also saw was unfortunately ‘visa shopping’. Travellers were running around trying to figure how and where they could get an appointment easily. Someone who was meant to travel to country A was applying for country B for visa, mostly in the Schengen area. Documentation was towards one country, which was not really justified. So, people with good travel history were also not getting visas because of poor quality of documentation. These were some of the challenges that we faced,” he says.
Diplomatic community geared up now
The good news is that the diplomatic community is now strongly geared up, Sen says. “Due to the current geopolitical situation, out of the three large markets, only one is thriving and people are turning towards India to ramp up their tourist and workforce numbers into 2023. Trust me, when I say this – the diplomatic community present in India have their eyes and ears on the ground. They were fully aware of what was going on. And the complexities of the situation that erupted after the restart in March. We engaged with them deeply and continuously. They have been very accommodating in terms of attending to specific requirements,” he says.
VFS Global call centres got 100 calls multiplied by four times during the peak. But there is a scientific limit to how much you can ramp up. “Despite the chaos that prevailed, we were easily handling between 22,000 to 25,0000 applications per day across India. The seasonality of travel shifted – people who could not manage to travel during June-July have travelled even leading up to September-December. And this is bound to continue into 2023 as well,” Sen adds.
“The number of client governments and diplomatic missions have put down statements of intending to open the floodgates as far as India is concerned. So, the serious capping issues that we saw last year with the appointments to a great extent should be resolved. That should take care of a lot of demand that will emanate from India. Number two is we do see the seriousness because economically the impact that the geopolitical situation of the West has caused is also being a hindrance, for many a government to utilise the economic flow from wherever it is possible is very high on their minds. They all are also adding staff to cater to this increased demand,” Sen reveals.
VFS Global on its behalf is also increasing its footprint and reaching out to tier-II and III cities with Visa at Your Doorstep product.