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Vande Bharat Mission, Air Bubble Pacts Induced Confidence in Travel Industry - BLS, Interview

By: Arjit Garg


Last Updated: August 30, 2021, 15:49 IST

A group of five students from Kolkata who had to return to their university in Canada undertook a journey of over 70 hours via two countries to reach their final destination. Representative image.

A group of five students from Kolkata who had to return to their university in Canada undertook a journey of over 70 hours via two countries to reach their final destination. Representative image.

The latest advancement of vaccination drive and initiatives like Vande Bharat Mission, Air Bubble Pacts brought back hopes amongst travellers and travel industry.

Air travel is slowly becoming one of the most preferred form of transportation across the globe. India, following the trend, has slowly made its mark in the international aviation map with one of the highest density of domestic and international airports across the globe. However, COVID-19 pandemic dented the growth prospects of the aviation industry more than any other sector after almost every other country announced a lockdown, bringing air travel to a halt. While domestic travelled has picked up pace in India and elsewhere, international travel is banned mostly.

We got in touch with Shikhar Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, BLS International to understand the impact of COVID-19 on international air travel and road ahead. BLS International is a global tech-enabled service provide present in 62 nations offering visa and passport services. Here’s our conversation-

[q]How bad has COVID-19 hit tourism industry?[/q]

[ans]The travel and tourism industry has been adversely affected with no international demand amid global travel restrictions including borders fully closed due to the impact of COVID-19. Despite the challenges and a not so stable global economy owing to the pandemic, BLS International have been able to manage & maintain healthy financial performance.

Our performance has been exceptional in relative terms if we compare with the industry that’s grappling for survival. This impact is mainly due to closure of visa centres in FY20, first quarter of this year has shown signs of growth in our consular services and other domestic business. Certainly, decline in global travel and tourism has impacted our business but we have mitigated the impact with diversification to other business lines.

It is spread across the globe with over 46 client governments across 66 countries. We have also established a robust network of banking points to deliver banking services to unserved and underserved for rural and remote population of India by bringing last-mile connectivity & financial inclusion. With this, we have successfully reduced the impact of pandemic on our business to a larger extent. [/ans]

[q]How can technology help tourism industry bounce back?[/q]

[ans]In an era where digitization has left no segment untouched, the travel industry is motivated to accelerate technological development and redefine the notion of travel altogether. A new wave of innovation is set to change the industry dynamics while ensuring a seamless experience for travellers. Travel bubble, vaccine passports, digital keys, advanced facial recognition software, biometrics for airport check-ins, and low-touch travel are just some of the trends that are most likely to pervade.

With AI becoming more sophisticated and computers having evolved to recognize speech patterns, voice command is slowly taking the centre stage. Voice control can help the travel industry overcome language barriers too and facilitate ease of communication. By offering services in multiple languages, voice technology can encourage more people to travel extensively.

At BLS, we have adopted state-of-the-art technology to provide a better and enhanced customer experience not only for visa processing but many other G2C services. It has been possible with seamless technology integration through AI-Driven platform. We use interactive methods like chat bots to enable the traveller with current status of the travel document. We harness OCR technology for visa processing that enables faster processing at the comfort of applicant’s home/ office.[/ans]

[q]What’s you take on Vaccine passports? [/q]

[ans]Governments are taking initiatives like Vaccine Passports, Health Certificates, Vaccination Certificates, etc. One of such initiative is of Singapore government that has initiated Digital Health Certificates to provide passengers a seamless cross-border travel experience. These certificates are a set of digital standards and schema for issuing digital COVID-19 Pre-Departure Test (PDT) results certificates that are in line with international standards and the Singapore Governments’ requirements. These are tamper-proof and traceable.

They are issued directly to travellers in the form of a QR code, and can be downloaded onto their mobile devices. These QR codes will enable authorities to easily verify that the PDT results have been issued by accredited healthcare institution and allow them to confirm the authenticity of the certificates before granting border access. We have partnered with Knowledge Catalyst to issue these digital health certificates for passengers travelling to and from Singapore. I feel there is a need for such innovative solutions which will be a boon for the travel sector and will help in its revival. [/ans]

[q]Tell us some of the convenience services provided by BLS[/q]

[ans]Our expertise lies in bringing convenience to our applicants with a seamless application process. With this intent, we provide convenience services like courier, premium lounge, mobile biometric, prime time visa appointment, home collection, etc. to maintain social distancing. Mobile Biometric Service is a prime example of a convenient new application procedure.

Combining functionality with portability and ease, it enables customers to complete their biometrics and visa application process at the comfort of their respective homes or offices. Primetime Submission is also a solution that aims at ease of application. A separate counter at the centre accepts application during work hours to provide a seamless application process. Applicants can apply the visa in BLS Premium Lounge with personalized assistance in a relaxing ambience with F&B facility. [/ans]

[q]BLS’s initiatives in international travel space[/q]

[ans]BLS International is the authorised ticket reseller for EXPO 2020, Dubai wherein visitors are welcome from every corner of the globe to join the making of a new world. With the theme and purpose of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Expo 2020 will be the world’s most impactful global incubator for new ideas, catalysing an exchange of new perspectives and inspiring action to deliver real-life solutions to real-world challenges.

Our extensive network across Asia, UK, Europe, Russia, USA, China and other parts of the world will be serving the customers globally looking for Expo 2020 tickets and tour packages. We also partnered with Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to provide protocol services to VVIP foreign delegations coming to India as well as Indian delegations going overseas. With this, we will be playing a vital role in strengthening cultural relations between India and rest of the world by providing end-to-end services for VVIP foreign & Indian delegations including dignitaries, artists, foreign scholars, etc. [/ans]

[q]How soon can we see travel industry recover?[/q]

[ans]During the last year, people worldwide have been socially distancing themselves due to the pandemic. However, people are now willing to travel with ongoing vaccination drives globally. According to a survey by American Express, 69% of people in India are planning one big international trip. In fact, right before the second wave hit the nation, Indians were also seen engaging and in fact, paying in excess for revenge travel.

The latest advancement of vaccination drive in India has brought back hopes amongst citizens and I am confident that various initiatives undertaken by government are going to be successful to win this battle against the virus. Our projects in countries like Russia, China, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Morocco, UK, USA, etc. have resumed operations. While the situation in India is indifferent, the world is coming back to normal. And since our business is diversified across 66 countries, our projects globally continue to pick up and show momentum. [/ans]

[q]How has Vande Bharat, Air Bubble saved travel industry?[/q]

[ans]We were honoured to be part of world’s largest repatriation exercise, Vande Bharat Mission by Govt of India, as even during the complete lockdown our staff members worked tirelessly going out of the schedules to accommodate consular needs of our fellow citizens. Government initiatives like Vande Bharat & Air Bubble are welcoming as it brings back the confidence of travellers. [/ans]

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first published:August 30, 2021, 15:49 IST
last updated:August 30, 2021, 15:49 IST