KSA Travellers are returning to their wanderlists
By Sumanth Kapoor Business Head – KSA, Bahrain and Oman
June 2021 came as a month of relief to travellers worldwide as border restrictions started easing and travel plans could finally be unpaused. This pent-up demand for travel has led to one of the travel and tourism industry’s busiest summer seasons. Although Covid-19 keeps rearing its ugly head with new variants, forcing countries to re-introduce public health measures where necessary, the demand for international travel has not waned. Across the world, our Visa Application Centres have seen application counts grow by over 100% between January and May 2022, versus the same period last year.
In KSA alone, we are applications higher than our 2019 numbers for the same period, with the volumes expected to keep increasing beyond the traditional summer season as demand for travel is expected to exceed the peak season of other years. Demand for Schengen visas has been particular strong. Since the announcement of Electronic Visa Waivers (EVW) for Saudi Nationals, VFS Global has introduced services to provide professional assistance and guidance to applicants with the EVW process.
Passport service requests, especially from India, Philippines, and Sri Lanka citizens, remain steady.
Add to this the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s vision to make the Kingdom a global hub connecting three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa, and the possibilities of travel from and through Saudi Arabia grow exponentially!
Agility has been the secret to every business’s sustainability during the pandemic. Altering services to cater to customer demands while maintaining health and safety guidelines became the cornerstone any customer-facing industry.
In KSA, we moulded our business model to bring our services closer to home for applicants during the pandemic. We partnered with Chambers of Commerce to set up implant offices in Mecca, Medina, Jizan, Najran, Qassim, Al Kharj and Al Jouf. Our teams visit these locations on a weekly basis to provide on-demand services for visa and passport applications and deliveries.
For passport and consular services, we conducted camps for Indians and Filipinos across 11 cities. These services are offered in Tabouk, Yanbu, Bisha, Al Baha, Qunfudah and Taif in the Western region, and Hofuf, Hafr Al Batin, Arar, Al Khafji and Al Qurrayat in the Central and Eastern regions. More recently, we started conducting these camps on-site for organisation employing large numbers of expats, such as hospitals and manpower companies.
With health and safety taking centrestage during the pandemic, contactless and Do it Yourself (DIY) technologies became imperative. In line with this philosophy, we introduced services such as Digital Document Check (DDC) which enables customers to have documents verified before visiting a visa application centre, thereby making the experience less time-consuming.
Our revolutionary Visa At Your Doorstep (VAYD) service witnessed high demand during this period, providing applicants end-to-end visa submission facilities at a location of their choice. The demand for this service continues to rise, with the demand this year already 20% higher than the volume achieved in 2019.
The way forward
Innovation will remain key to all businesses going forward, especially a business like ours. Governments are keen for new technologies that provide a smoother customer journey and providing the right technological competence and value propositions will play an important role in accelerating the adoption of outsourcing services and boosting cross-border mobility.