Since the turn of this century, the travel industry is at an all-time high with people constantly on the go and travelling more than ever. A recent report by UN World Tourism Organization highlighted that each year, a whopping 1.2 billion people travel abroad, and growth in international arrivals is recorded at around 7%. One out of four trips originates in Asia and the Pacific, and this region is where the main growth is poised to continue from. By 2030, it is estimated that some 8.5 billion people will take approximately 2 billion international trips.
This increase in love for travel has not only opened doors to some of the most unexplored pockets of world, but also has paved way for innumerable technology solutions making a traveller’s journey highly customised as well as convenient. These easily accessible solutions are changing the way consumers now plan their travel and approach their bucket lists.
Similar to the overall travel industry, the erstwhile manual visa industry is also undergoing significant change in customer journey and approach. Ease of the visa process is one of the top five reasons driving global travel, according to a UN World Tourism Organization report, and this industry too has also come a long way in providing convenience, almost at par with any other new-age consumer or e-commerce brand.
Five years ago, people would have to travel from their respective towns to metro cities to apply for visas. But today, with services which offer visas at a customer’s doorstep, applicants from any part of a country can now enrol biometrics and submit documents from the comfort of their home or office!
This kind of services have been enabled by technology and propelled by a consumer-first philosophy that is permeating many consumer-facing industries. In the visa space, security of data and information is paramount. Hence, it is imperative for any innovation in this area to further strengthen the security and overall integrity of the process, while enhancing customer experience.
Whilst customers still place a high value on personalised face-to-face interactions for services like visas, they are also on the lookout for tailor-made, convenient digital options while planning their travel, including visas. Therefore, there are several online visa platforms that provide an easy and seamless experience throughout the visa application process.
Far from being the stuff of science-fiction, AI-powered solutions are becoming a common experience. Chatbots, powered by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, are increasingly being used not just for real-time information dissemination, but also for personalised online bookings. For example, you could potentially fill your visa application form with the help of an AI assistant or customise your stay or flight options based on your past preferences with an AI assistant helping you navigate through the process.
On top of this, today’s sophisticated chatbots have the ability to think two steps ahead—for instance, if you are trying to track your passport or visa, it will not only give you a status update, but also provide information you did not ask for—such as your pick-up or courier delivery options once the document is processed.
While digital continues to present more opportunities that enhance the travel experience, it’s imperative to keep the same experience alive in the physical world as well. Companies in the travel industry are striking a ‘phygital’ balance, where they continue to optimise human interaction, while using digitalisation to streamline processes.
The world is constantly on the move and millions of travellers are eagerly looking for better solutions to travel. As long as these travellers place a high value on experience and efficiency, there will always be need for new timely, seamless and agile services, both online and offline.
Industry players would need to constantly adapt and innovate to harness this pool of opportunity, thus creating a future in travel that is speedier, more secure and personalised—and ultimately, a more authentic experience that the travellers will love.
The author is head, Digital and eCommerce, VFS Global. Views are personal