Today, VFS Global offers visa application service for 48 countries in India, serving an ever-rising number of outbound travellers, their commitment to keep customers at the front and centre of their services remains their main goal. Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group COO – South Asia Middle East & China has been with VFS Global since 2013 and has successfully managed multiple leadership roles at various geographies was keen on sharing with TTJ about the magnitude and dynamism of their operations which is aimed at ensuring better, faster and more flexible services for the end visa applicants.
How has the journey been so far for VFS Global from its date of inception to the present day and what is the aim of the organisation by end of 2020?
In India, our operations have grown steadily, from one visa application centre in Mumbai in 2001 to our current presence in 17 cities with over 490 application centres. Globally, we serve 63 government clients, of which we work on behalf of 48, right here in India. As we continue to further consolidate our position, we have made significant advancements in visa process technology, many of them pioneering innovations such as ‘Visa At Your Doorstep’, to name just one. India has been the key incubation ground for many new solutions aimed at easing the visa process and experience for governments and applicants alike, and going forward, we will further extend our customer service capabilities to better support the visa application processes of various governments.
Tell us about your presence in India and how is the India market faring for VFS Global? Also, what are some of the challenges of this evolving but a robust outbound market?
The growing outbound numbers mean a constant increase in visa applications. We witnessed one of the busiest travel peak seasons this year with more and more Indians travelling overseas and exploring newer destinations. Our centres recorded over 2 million applications from January to May 2019.
Catering to ever-increasing volumes is one of the main challenges we face, and one that we are constantly taking extra measures to assuage. This includes extended working hours at our centres to ensure all the applicants for the day are served, with some of our busier centres kept open even on Saturdays for application submission and passport collection. Of course, the support of trade partners plays a vital role; owing to their knowledge of the processes, the application journey through them becomes simple and seamless. We even have dedicated counters and timings for our trade partners.
Furthermore, we have made significant advancements in visa processing technology such as ‘Visa At Your Doorstep’ and multiple other pioneering innovations. India has been the epicentre for testing multiple solutions which are aimed at easing the visa process and experience for governments and applicants alike. In addition to this, we will extend and enhance our customer service capabilities to better enable the visa application process for applicants.
What are the present exceptional services of VFS Global in India which make the process of visa application easier and comfortable?
Personalisation is the need of the hour, and services across industries and sectors are now being personalised to suit the customer preferences. In line with this increasing trend, VFS Global has conceptualised and implemented a host of optional services that are not only tailor-made to suit the changing requirements of applicants, but also simplify the visa application process, making it more convenient, exclusive and hassle free.
Our premium lounges, for instance, has been a success among our visa applicants. There has been a 121 per cent y-o-y increase in the number of applicants opting for premium lounges in India, especially during the travel peak season. This goes on to show the clear preference for personalised visa application process across geographies. In fact, more recently, we launched a special lounge service in Delhi for Italy business visa applicants, called the Casa Italia, to provide personalised service and assistance to applicants. These services are always optional and the fees, which is agreed with respective government clients. Similarly services like Visa At Your Doorstep, Priority Visa services and Prime Time Services are aimed at bringing time and place utility. These optional services bridge certain gaps for the visa applicants, making their visa appointment as hassle free as possible.
Last year we migrated to a new and improved website, making it easy for applicants to opt for any of these services. It is easier now when they come online to book their appointments. Furthermore, our travel agent partners have seamless access to all our services, and are a critical and important route for applicants to access them.
How is advancement in technology helping VFS Global to smoothen the visa process for your clients?
Technology has always been an integral part of the business and quite naturally, technological advancements spearhead every vertical of the business. For instance, doorstep visa was made possible because of the mobile biometric enrolment kit. Another recent innovation is ViVA, the first-ever visa services chatbot is already launched for Australia visa applicants in India.
Powered by artificial intelligence, ViVA tackles multiple applicant related queries round the clock with unique responses, which significantly reduces turnaround times and act as invaluable support to customer service teams. Similarly, LIDPro a breakthrough innovation, was built to allow location independent visa and document processing across multiple locations and geographies, with the sole objective of better managing application loads, all while enhancing accessibility of services to applicants. Apart from providing government clients with enhanced reach without being physically present in a location, LIDPro helps standardise and streamline various administrative procedures.
Going forward, we will continue to identify prototype and launch innovations that will enhance the visa application process and cross-border travel of the future.
How big is the role of travel agents in your growth in India? What are your strategies to bond with them and offer them an enriching visa application experience which they can further extend to their clients?
We value the travel agent fraternity as one of our biggest stakeholders and engage with them on regular basis. Travel agents are an integral part of VFS Global’s ecosystem. We regularly hold meetings in all cities of operations, road shows, and special offers and packages, being mindful of their requirements to ensure their customers can enjoy a seamless visa application experience. Additionally, we also offer a wide range of innovative and useful optional services that smoothen the application process for their customers such as preferred pricing for Visa At Your Doorstep group applications, premium lounges for personalised service, and ability to apply outside regular hours (prime time services).
The success of this synergy is very evident in our ‘Visa At Your Doorstep’ service, for instance, where 95 per cent of those who opt for this service are through their trusted travel agents, who engage with VFS Global to deliver this service for their customers at their location of choice, anywhere in India. In addition to this, we are stepping up efforts to share information regarding process-related queries directly with travel partners, so they can better serve their customers and set the right expectations.
What do you have to say about the new trend of visa policies like ‘e-visas’ and ‘visa on arrival’ offered to Indians by many countries?
E-visas are a fast-emerging trend. However, it requires both the government and the applicant to be ready for this kind of process, in terms of bandwidth, connectivity, internet penetration, integration of visa processes in government systems. Such tech-enabled models are aimed at giving travellers more convenient and flexible visa application options and are usually offered alongside the more traditional processes. Having said that, several countries still require biometric enrolment for visa applications, which means, despite an online application process, travellers will still be required to visit a physical centre to submit biometrics.
For governments that have gone the e-visa way, VFS Global has effectively supported them to the best of our abilities. While the processes have remained on the respective governments’ websites, we perform the supporting functions we have expertise in. We have been processing UAE e-visas since 2016 through a mobile app for Emirates Airline passengers that provide an accessible and simple platform for e-visa applications.
In February 2019, we began facilitating Thailand eVisa on Arrival for 21 countries, India included, providing eligible travellers the option of getting pre-approved visas on arrival. More recently, for e-visas and eTourist Card services for visitors to Suriname in South America from 51 countries. Additionally, we provide offline assistance for Australia e-visa submissions.