In an interview with TnH, VINAY MALHOTRA, Regional Group COO – South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and Americas, VFS GLOBAL, says that post-COVID-19, people will be keen to travel as soon as possible. In addition to this, a new dimension of health considerations may be a strong driving force for the sector to rally and show a positive trend.
Q. What is the status at VFS Global visa application centres today with the number of offices open, in India and globally?
In line with the rapid changes in COVID-19 safety measures globally, the majority of our visa application centres for 64 client governments across 146 countries have suspended operations temporarily, according to the instructions of our client governments and/or the local authorities. Currently in India, all our centres remain closed till 3 May 2020, as per government directives.
Q. What is your forecast for the coming months? How do you see your organization getting ready for the task ahead?
The tourism sector is usually among the first to bear the brunt of shocks in any region, but equally, it usually tends to rubber-band back to normalcy after a dip, in a V-curve. COVID-19 is a pandemic and unprecedented, and no one can predict if or when the situation will calm down or if there will be new waves of cases. However, people will be keen to travel as soon as they possibly can and this demand, along with a new dimension of health considerations, may be a strong driving force for the sector to rally and show a positive trend.
Organisations will need to monitor this evolving situation, and align to prepare for ‘the new normal’ that may emerge. Health will certainly be as important as security! At VFS Global, in India and around the world, we are even more committed to leveraging on technology and operational excellence to ensure an enhanced customer experience in a post-COVID world. An important aspect of this is keeping our visa application centres in peak readiness from a hygiene and safety perspective, and ensuring customers are able to enjoy a smooth visa application process for when they are ready to travel again.
Q. Does COVID-19 offer the potential for India to grow as the biggest source market for outbound travel?
It would be premature to predict outlook in various markets, as the course of the pandemic is still evolving. Economists expect a full recovery of the travel and tourism industry perhaps by end-2021 or even later. In fact, travel & tourism GDP loss to the world economy has been predicted to be pegged at USD 2.1 trillion in 2020 (WTTC). Some heartening information is that the International Monetary Fund expects India to cling on to 1.9% growth in 2020, the highest growth among G20 countries. Reserve Bank of India’s indications are also that, despite an impending global recession, India is expected to post sharp turnaround by growing at 7.4% in FY22.
As one of the fastest-growing outbound travel markets with passport penetration still low, there is indeed ample opportunity for growth. I would say India has all the right ingredients for it to continue as a strong source market going forward.
Q. What preventive steps is VFS Global taking to ensure health safety for customers?
Our teams continue to safeguard the health of our employees and customers by ensuring the use of precautionary measures as advised by the World Health Organisation and local health authorities. When our centres re-open, we will be implementing practices such as social distancing, disinfecting high-contact surfaces, regular hand-washing, use of hand sanitizers, and awareness notices, etc.
During this time, communication with our travel partners and customers will be the key and we are taking steps to ensure information about the visa process at our centres is updated regularly. For example, in addition to updating our social media handles, we have set up a special COVID-19 page on our website (www.vfsglobal.com/covid-19) with detailed FAQs for travel trade and customers, to answer any queries they might possibly have and to keep them updated on operational aspects of the visa process.
By Prem Kumar, Credit: TnHglobal