Demand for priority visas by Indians to increase in future
The high-spending Indian traveler is in great demand globally. The VFS Group has said priority visas, currently being offered in India by UK only, may be taken up by other countries too.
Among these places looking at this option are the Schengen states, said VFS. Presently, UK offers this service where it charges — in addition to its high visa fees — almost Rs 90,000 for “super priority” category where visa decision comes in a day and Rs 20,000 for “priority” where it takes less than a week. However, UK visa fees are among the highest for all countries in India and priority service charges of others could be much lower.
Zubin Karkaria, CEO of VFS Global Group, told TOI: “UK started the super priority service about a year back. A lot of Indian businessmen, investment bankers have to travel at very short notice to the UK. They recognised this and started the service. Some others are also looking at the same,” he added.
VFS Group, which collects visa documents for 60 client governments in 139 countries with 2675 application centres globally, is witnessing a high double digit growth in India where it serves 45 countries through visa application centres in 17 cities. In 2016, it received 43 lakh applications in India, and the figure jumped to 50 lakh last year. Foreign consulates want to reach out to more and more Indians by having application centres across the country. “They are wooing not just tourists but other categories also. Students from India are a big category, second only to Chinese for places like UK and Australia,” he said.
“Our overall growth in number of visa applications in India is 10-15% but the growth in Tier II and III cities is almost double, between 20-30%. The growth is such that in peak (travel) times we have had to keep our application centers in Delhi and Mumbai open on the weekend; 24 hours a day; after office hours. We have tried everything in Delhi and Mumbai.”
“The final decision of keeping the center open is on the client government as we can collect the documents and they need to then process the same (at the same pace). We are offering visa at doorstep also,” Karkaria said. Visa at doorstep means sending application units to homes and offices also along with accredited biometric kits.
Karkaria joined travel major Kuoni in 1991 and a decade later conceptualized and set up VFS. Over the years, he says the concept of holiday has changed in India. “Earlier holiday used to be a luxury. Today it is a necessity. Because of the pressure of the job, people need time with family. What used to be a 15-20 day annual vacation is now three to four short breaks with two domestic and as many international. Instead of the usual destinations, Indians are now going to places that are not run of the mill like Czech Republic, Cyprus and Croatia. They are looking at destinations far and beyond,” Karkaria, the first Asian CEO of Kuoni Group, said.
Technology is changing the way people travel. “We offer visas on mobiles via apps for some countries that yet do not require biometrics like the UAE and Brazil e-visa. But countries are increasingly opting for biometrics for security and to ensure that the person travelling is the one who got the visa and also to ensure that the person leaving is the same one who entered by matching biometrics,” he said.
“Technology is taking a leap and we will remain the innovator and first mover. Countries like UAE offer visas on a mobile phone. Today we are in 17 cities in India, we may go to 30 or 100, who knows. The focus will always be on efficiency, comfort and security,” he added.