After two years of no travel, opening of borders have paved a visa rush, wherein early appointments are not easily available to those planning to go on summer holidays. It’s a struggle for the agents, clients as well as the visa facilitation centres.
As borders have opened, the struggle for visa appointments has resurfaced. Post-COVID, travel agents and tour operators are making sure that they get maximum business, but visa appointments have become a hurdle. Riaz Munshi, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association (OTOAI) and MD, N Chirag Travels, agrees, “Major challenges currently are regarding visa and airline fares. We have written to most of the embassies. However, we know that they are not yet working with full team. Even flights are expensive, and hence we need more flights, so that the fair is reduced. We have requested all embassies to deploy more people because this is the time to capitalise as everyone would like to do business. All countries are looking for business from India, and there is a huge pent-up demand for the summer season. Hence, if these issues can be resolved, I’m sure even this season will be at par with 2019 volume. Apart from writing to embassies we are discussing the same with VFS too.”
Echoing what Munshi said, Rajan Dua, MD, Udaan India, shares, “It’s been two years when everything came to a standstill and now we are reviving our work, offices, business, clients and even the internal staff. Everybody, including embassies, airlines, hotels, travel agencies, DMCs – there are issues going on with every aspect of travel. Airline fares have gone sky high. Regarding visas, we have spoken to consulates and embassies. While they knew that the numbers will pick up, but because of the war, especially Eastern Europe and some Schengen countries haven’t got the bandwidth in terms of staff. They are struggling and are incapable of giving us appointments. Although some countries like France and Switzerland are doing well and are the most organised, others have to respond similarly.” Understanding the situation, Himanshu Patil, Owner, Kesari Tours and Vice President OTOAI, says that even travel agencies today are facing the shortage of staff and the same is the case with consulates and embassies. There are many categories apart from leisure, that are waiting in line for visas, including students, and visiting parents. With India’s country size, the travelling population has increased so much that it will take another 2-3 months for the situation to normalise. Everyone is looking forward to that. We have requested the consulates to improve the waiting time at our end too.”
On the other hand, Siddharth Khanna, Partner, Khanna Enterprises (travelengineers.com) and Treasurer, OTOAI, says, “Similar situation arises every year when we hit the season. This is a common problem what the industry goes through and we are closely working with VFS and constantly apprise them about the situation. I think it is coming back to normalcy after a while and there’s been a lot of staff reduction at the embassies. However, it’s a problem, which has been long existing in this industry, especially in the 2-3 summer months, when appointments get blocked.”
However, he adds that one needs to figure out a way around it. “Just plan in advance. At the same time, we are closely updating VFS and consulates and I’m sure they’re working towards the betterment and streamlining of the appointment system.”
Statement from VFS Global
“VFS Global works in strict adherence to the service level agreements with its client governments, and this includes appointment bookings. With travel being suspended for a considerable part of the last two years, as travel restrictions ease, the number of available appointments remain limited and according to the capacity given by the Embassies/Consulates. VFS Global and the Embassies/Consulates work towards catering to all our customers, including pending applications and new ones. We request and appreciate your patience and cooperation during this time, and advise customers to plan much in advance.