By Benjamin Boesch, Chief Digital Officer at VFS Global
Digital customer experiences are progressing rapidly, with big and small competitors, fuelled by venture capital investments, race towards new benchmarks. While this journey began a long time ago, distancing and lockdown constraints during the pandemic have further accelerated this trend.
Emergence of discerning digital customers
In this context, the travel industry is witnessing sweeping changes in consumer preferences, with new touchless solutions providing assurance and comfort needed to reignite international travel. As the recovery from the global lockdown in 2020 is progressing, the shift in consumer behaviour is quite evident. Take this Bain and Company study on Southeast Asia for instance. Conducted in partnership with Google and Temasek, the research based on Kantar data from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, showed that over a third of consumers were new to digital platforms, and 9 out of ten said that they intend to continue using those platforms after the pandemic. With 40 million new Internet users added in 2020, 70% of the region’s population or 400 million were online, it added. The challenge for digital solution providers is to keep pace with the fast-changing needs of this discerning set of digital customers.
Wider acceptance of digital tools
People from different age groups, geographies and backgrounds are comfortable with digital tools. Birthday celebrations and family reunions on video calling apps, or same-day delivery providers, emerged as a lifeline and routine for a world living in lockdown. These cross-industry shifts have prompted companies to revisit its customer proposition. With health and safety considerations taking greater relevance, the move towards online experiences would only continue. Even for a service like getting travel visas, which used to be strictly regarded as an in-person activity, the availability of contactless options is attracting new takers. From document pre-checks or digital payments, remote submission of applications, doorstep visa services, or passport pick-up and drop services, the pandemic has heightened the need to add more convenience. In this context, I personally consider innovations like visa at your doorstep as key milestone because it empowers customers to apply for visas like calling in food or groceries from the comforts of their homes. Even critical information such as biometric enrolment could be offered from any location.
Global mobility is driven by innovation
Another critical dependency on emerging technology would be ensuring effective and integrated partnerships between the private sector and border control. This would be imperative for resumption of leisure travel and global events. Over the past 18 months, we have witnessed innovations such as the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass, a digital passport for verifiable test and vaccination details, the UK government’s NHS App, which proves your vaccine status, and France’s TousAntiCovid app, which houses its health pass.
Given the potential of the travel sector, as an economic driver and catalyst for social development goals, seamless adoption of digital technologies by the entire ecosystem is pivotal. These technologies enable frictionless solutions for health and safety needs of travellers and provide the much-needed fillip to local businesses and economies. A sharp focus on innovation, therefore, is the only way to regain pre-COVID momentum in global mobility.