VFS Global’s Regional Group COO Jiten Vyas discusses how technology has revolutionised the overall travel experience by making it more streamlined and personalised.

Online hotel bookings, e-visas, mobile app travel guides – technology has a huge impact on modern travellers. This, amidst stringent norms to ensure data security and privacy of personal information.

The time to travel is now! According to the World Tourism Organisation, it is estimated that some 1.8 billion tourists are set to travel globally by 2030. Going hand in hand with this burgeoning travelling populace is a technological revolution of sorts.

Among the most important and common smart travel offerings are solutions like electronic visa on arrival, eVisa products, biometric smart gates and other smart infrastructure which are increasingly being introduced at several border and immigration checkpoints that are driving the number of people in visiting other parts of the world.

The opportunities are endless for the travel industry to transform and adapt itself to take advantage of this growing market. Companies must explore options to the traditional solutions, if they must survive these fast-paced changes. Constant technological updates in the industry, lead to new levels of innovation in services – and innovation is the only way organisations can provide the best experience to customers, and retain their competitive advantage.

At VFS Global, these changing market dynamics urge us to constantly assess how we can make the traditionally stringent visa process even more streamlined, customised and better suited to the needs of the traveller. A case in point is the pioneering Visa At Your Doorstep solution, which brings the visa application and biometrics process to the customer’s doorstep. Eliminating the need for the customer to visit the centre, technology has allowed the entire application setup, including the biometric kit, to be taken to outstation customers living too far away from the Visa Application Centres.

At the backend, breakthrough solutions like Location Independent Document Processing – or LIDPro – have been developed by VFS Global for certain client governments. The solution allows consulates to remotely process visa applications submitted in another country, resulting in considerable time and resource savings for the government. In the South African context, biometric and online solutions are also used widely for residence permit programmes for the Department of Home Affairs, and the Lesotho and Zimbabwe governments allowing large volumes of applications to be processed in a streamlined and efficient manner.

Another example of experience-driven solutions made possible by versatile technologies is a proprietary ‘Appointment Scheduling System’ that we use, that automatically arranges appointment slot capacity by analysing date, time-range and visa type. The system can even allocate a queue number at the time of making an appointment, and ensures no customer is allowed to book multiple appointments, ensuring a seamless experience for all customers using the same interface.

It is important to note that such solutions are effective for both visa as well as other identity or citizen services projects alike like passport processing. Take the case of our Premium Passport Application Centre project in Ghana which is set up for customers for an enhanced customer experience amidst higher volumes of applications with better accessibility through longer working hours alongside automated crowd management system or avail personalised services like Premium Lounge facility, form filling assistance and most importantly support large group bookings, like student groups -who are the next-gen travellers.

Naturally, technology isn’t without its challenges. While it has made systems more transparent, it has also heightened concerns of data protection and privacy. Since most travellers’ information is stored online, robust storing and purging measures are expected to be in place – a requirement especially crucial in the visa services space, given the large quantities of user data processed.

The implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation across the European Union, effective since May 2018, now acts a global benchmark for data security and privacy measures. We welcome this regulation and consider it as an opportunity for all organisations in this space to implement more stringent data protection policies across their operations. While we have always had robust security frameworks in place, we have used this regulation as an opportunity to further review and strengthen these systems to make them GDPR-compliant to ensure customer data is submitted and shared in a safe and secure environment, while at the same time, continuing to offer personalised and convenient services for the benefit of customers.

In the wake of still newer trends in artificial intelligence, blockchain automation, and machine learning, it is only a matter of time how the travel trade and allied industries integrate more such advancements into everyday operations – a combination that will be nothing but a win-win for both the company and the customer.

VFS Global