‘Be a specialist to be on top’

Zubin Karkaria, Founder & CEO, VFS Global, suggests that one should always choose a space where they are a market leader, where their core competency lies and where they can add more value. Find your niche, he advises the travel trade!

When the time came for Zubin Karkaria, Founder & CEO, VFS Global, to choose a path at Kuoni Travel, he chose visas and decided to lead VFS Global. Speaking about exploring alternative revenue options, he is of the opinion that one should always stick to what one does best. “People are looking for specialists. If you do everything for everyone, you will remain average. If you focus on one thing and do it well, that will work. Choose where you are the market leader and where your core competency lies and where you can add more value. It is difficult to let go of large operations, but if you have the courage to do, let go and find your niche. You will serve your customer and your business well,” he says.

To emphasise his point, Zakaria adds, “The travel agents’ role will continue to be important. While booking travel online will continue to be popular as well, there will always be some segments such as families who will rely on the travel agent to book and feel secure about their holiday. I still go to a specialist while booking a holiday. They will inform clients whether a particular hotel is good for children, or how far it is from the airport, or are there nice restaurants around the hotel.”

Post-pandemic trend

People are ready to go the extra mile today and travel, says Karkaria. “Having said that, I feel there is not one type of Indian traveller. There are so many different kinds of travellers.. But I do see the trend that they have started booking their journeys slightly in advance. Families need to overlap their holidays based on school holidays. This is mostly to destinations where they feel they may face a capacity crunch or they will be paying more if they book later. For instance, Kenya is facing a huge capacity crunch this year, and you will not find a single camp available. Travellers in India have started booking much in advance today. We also see this trend in terms of applying for visas,” he explains.

Visa challenges

Touching a hot topic – visa applications – Karkaria is open about the issue. “The visa challenges that we witness is a factor of demand and supply. The demand suddenly surged and there was a lag between things opening up and visa issuance. And that should be sorted out soon,” he says.

Trained manpower is also a problem that the industry at large is facing right now. “There is definitely a shortage of skilled staff. When people were let go during the pandemic, they found opportunities in other segments like hospitality industry or airlines. Over the two years when numbers were down, we did over 200-300 programmes for our staff for skill development. We wanted to keep them occupied. Not only in customer service or skill improvement, but also things like soft skills or cooking or even mental health. Over 2,000-3,000 VFS staff would sign up for these online training,” Karkaria says.

VFS Global, he says, spent a lot of money encouraging travellers to go online as it speeds up things. “We invested in technology – where VFS staff can process visas at the clients’ homes or offices. Today, we are at the same capacity as we were pre-pandemic, in terms of infrastructure and human resources. We could not reduce our infrastructure, so we are still capable of processing 32 million applications even today as we did in 2019. We are still at 60 per cent of 2019 numbers,” he shares.

VFA Global is also focused on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) – especially in terms of women diversity. It has signed a pledge for higher women ratio – today it has over 58 per cent women in VFS Global.



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