Travel suffers early and significant setback; VFS hopes for resilience in the sector

Visa activity is always in the front end of travel worldwide, and VFS has been the pioneer in the business. We catch up with Vinay Malhotra, Regional COO, South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Americas to find out recent sectoral trends in India, and globally where they operate?

On the global visas front, what is the ground reality today, like number of offices open, and doing what? More specifically, what is the situation in India?

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 of operation are closed for an indefinite, though temporary period, according to the instructions of our client governments or local authorities. Currently in India, all our Centres remain closed till 14 April 2020, as per government directives.

How do you see trends in travel shaping in the foreseeable future?  What does it mean for VFS, in terms of maintaining its infrastructure and costs?

While it is premature to comment on the COVID-19 impact on visa application trends, it is clear the travel and tourism sector globally has faced an early and significant setback. We are unsure how long the pandemic will last and economists expect a recovery of the travel and tourism industry only by mid-2021 or even later. It will no doubt be challenging for organisations to balance variations in demand, while maintaining infrastructural and operational efficiencies.

Has VFS done any down-sizing, and how do you see the situation panning out?

Over the last few months, we have witnessed a slowdown in business across the world and hence have had to undertake several cost-efficiency measures across the company to effectively manage the situation. We continue to assess how we can use our resources efficiently and responsibly to maintain the well-being of the company and our employees.

What steps has VFS taken in line with current safety steps being recommended globally?

Meanwhile, 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, such as regular hand-washing, body temperature screening at centres that are operational, use of hand sanitizers, disinfecting high-contact surfaces, and awareness notices at our centres.

What is your forecast for the coming months? And how do you see your organization coping with the task ahead?

That said, the tourism sector is a highly resilient one and we are confident it will rally and show a positive trend when the situation improves and people are able to get back to their travel routines as soon as they possibly can. Having said that, we are also monitoring the evolution of the industry due to this crisis, aligning ourselves accordingly to face demands from ‘the new normal’ that may emerge.  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.

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