Covid-era travel trends: Digital is the way forward, industry experts say

Posted by Lorraine Kearney on 28 October 2021

Most people have become adept at online transactions thanks to Covid-19, and the travel industry is no different. In fact, not only is digital plane tickets, itineraries and other travel-related administrative necessities safer for hygiene purposes, it’s also better for the environment than printing out stacks of paper.

With international travel opening up, and testing, vaccine certificates and ‘travel passes’ becoming the norm for many countries, VFS Global chief digital officer Benjamin Boesch believes that the move to Level 1 lockdown and getting off the UK’s red list is likely to have prompted a surge in online travel bookings.

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Indeed, by 13 October, the country had seen air ticket sales from South Africa to London triple since South Africa’s removal from the UK’s travel red list on 7 October, said Flight Centre. “Our mobile app was also hugely popular with overall website traffic up by 50% since the announcement,” said Andrew Stark, Flight Centre travel group MD.

VFS Global recently announced it had partnered with the International Air Travel Agency (IATA) in having its test booking credentials accepted in the IATA Travel Pass. However, as of yet it is only available to travellers in Canada, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, and the USA.

READ: Emirates and Etihad first major airlines to trial IATA Travel Pass

VFS Global is an outsourcing and technology services company for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. It manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-discretionary tasks for its client governments.

The Travel Pass is a mobile application that allows travellers to securely store and manage certifications for Covid-19 tests or vaccines. Importantly, it is verified.

READ: South African authorities in talks about introducing vaccine travel pass

Passport power

South Africa ranks 58th on the Henley and Partners Global Passport Index, with visa-free access to 103 countries. Visas are required for 124 destinations.

The Henley Passport Index compares the visa-free access of 199 different passports to 227 travel destinations.

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South Africa now issues digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates that confirm that a person has been vaccinated in the country. It is available through your smartphone. “This initiative is in line with the World Health Organization initiated vaccination certificate. Through this, the WHO is attempting to standardise vaccination proof all over the world,” Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said in September.

The certificate would likely be used for certain services in the future, but the government had no intention of making the certificate a requirement for accessing public services, he said. Instead, it would be used to gain entry to entertainment and sporting events and possibly some businesses.

“Beyond the obvious benefits for South African citizens wanting to travel to destinations which require travellers to hold digital vaccination certificates, this announcement is also good news for our inbound industry as it will go a long way to restoring confidence in international visitors wanting to visit South Africa,” said Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of Fedhasa, the Federated Hospitality Association of SA.

Sweeping changes

Boesch added that 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”.

“These cross-industry shifts have prompted companies like VFS Global, the world’s largest visa and consular service provider, to revisit its customer proposition. While global lock-down restrictions may be lifting, health and safety considerations are of greater relevance, and so the move towards online experiences will continue,” Boesch said.

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, and contact-less options for visa applications are being offered.

“We need globally recognised, standardised and inter-operable digital certificates both for Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates. Governments around the world need to stop acting in isolation and agree on a standardised approach to international travel criteria and requirements, including digital health certificates,” said Otto de Vries, CEO of Asata, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents.

“Only then will these certificates have the potential to significantly reduce the red tape and administration that is currently necessary when travelling overseas. It would be the start of a safe, convenient, consistent and efficient restart of travel.”

Pictures: Unsplash

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