By Dhiren Savla, Chief Information Officer at VFS Global
After more than a year of disruptions and lockdowns, the world was on the move again towards the end of 2021. But the concerns around the rapidly spreading new variant have slowed the momentum again, disrupting the ramp-up of complex supply chains and affecting millions around the globe. While long-term recovery forecasts were commonplace in 2020 and 2021, planning is now much more short-term oriented again, learning from the volatility of the last few months. Handling such uncertainty is the new normal businesses need to deal with.
How can governments and key players in the travel industry address this reality?
We believe that a focus on restoring travel security is paramount, making the sector more resilient for similar shocks in the future and most essentially to adapt quickly to customer needs and preferences that have emerged in recent months. Technology plays a pivotal role in the pandemic response.
With the right use of technology, businesses can create new possibilities and diversify revenue streams. Prior to the pandemic, it was largely IT companies that pushed innovation to market. Post-pandemic, the tables have turned, and businesses now face far higher customer expectations.
According to World Economic Forum’s Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI), digitalization in aviation, travel, and tourism between 2016 and 2025 will generate up to US$305 billion in value for the industry through increased profitability. We believe that the key success factors will be content, connectivity, and transactional excellence:
- Content: The pandemic has significantly increased the need for up-to date, detailed information about restrictions, precautions and amenities. Customers would like to reduce uncertainty to a maximum extent, and a consistent and exhaustive content is addressing this
- Connectivity: Today’s travelers need high-speed internet access at all times, not just to share their experiences on social media and messaging, but increasingly to stay connected with their workplace as well. The lines between work, home and vacation have blurred, and the availability to join a quick video call at any given time is key.
- Transactions: With venues, modes of transportations, and events being restricted in capacity, customers need to be able to plan and book all their activities ahead of time to reduce wait times and risks of venues being fully booked. Likewise, they need straightforward rescheduling and cancellation options.
While other advances, such as augmented reality or highly data-driven, personalized services, may be beneficial, they would lack credibility until above fundamentals are in place. Furthermore, while discussing digital transformation in travel, we must also be careful to not make the mistake of oversimplification. Digitization of the tourism industry is not just limited to bookings or the use of the internet to search for locations and flights but to the entire experience itself, right from the beginning to end, every step being modified adds convenience for travelers.
People are willing, but cautious when it comes to planning vacations. Likewise, governments are willing to open borders and allow cross-border mobility, but restrictions remain. Given these obstacles, the first step towards restoration is to build trust. Digital technology is a great tool to address both concerns. One example could be a service that allows customers to apply for visas for travel to countries that require them from the comfort of their living rooms. Even sensitive activities, such as biometric enrolment, can be provided from anywhere.
We must not forget, even though digital technology has made our travel journeys convenient, it comes with its share of risks. Given the rapid rate at which businesses have had to modernize their services to go digital, combined with the large amount of personal data now being accumulated, the risk of data breaches and their impact both have increased. While being wary of the motivations behind the convenience offered online, fact-checking information from multiple sources for yourself, and seeking expert opinion to review any suspicious digital activity will go a long way toward ensuring one’s data’s security during these trying times.