While the journey towards digital customer experiences began a long time ago, physical distancing and lockdown constraints during the pandemic have further accelerated this trend – so much so that planning travel experiences from our devices is now a part of everyday life.
With digital customer experiences progressing rapidly, the travel industry is witnessing sweeping changes in consumer preferences, with new touchless solutions providing the assurance and comfort needed to reignite international travel.
The emergence of discerning digital customers
As we start to recover from the global lockdown in 2020, the shift in consumer behaviour is increasingly evident. A Bain and Company study on Southeast Asia, which was conducted in partnership with Google and Temasek and based on Kantar data, showed that over a third of consumers were new to digital platforms, yet nine out of 10 said that they intended to continue using those platforms after the pandemic.
Closer to home, the size of Kenya’s internet population is growing at an exponential rate – catapulted along by the pandemic. As of December 2020, Kenya’s internet penetration rate was pegged at 85.2 per cent, putting it higher than other countries such as Libya (84,2 per cent), Nigeria (73 per cent), and South Africa (57,5 per cent).
This high rate is largely due to the fact that Kenya is home to mobile wallet provider M-Pesa, with the payment system encouraging internet access. And with this growing user base, comes an increasingly sophisticated and discerning digital customer.
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 like VFS Global, the world’s largest visa and consular service provider, to revisit their 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 VFS Global’s Visa at your Doorstep (VAYD) as a key milestone because it empowers our 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 the 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 the health and safety needs of travelers 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.
Benjamin Boesch is the Chief Digital Officer, VFS Global