From January 2024 travelers from more than 60 countries who currently able to travel through the EU’s Schengen travel area without a visa will now need to apply for an EU Travel Information & Authorization System – or ‘ETIAS’ – travel authorization ahead of travel.
This will include countries whose passport holders are not used to applying for permission to travel to many counties, such as Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and the United States.
Whilst the requirements are relatively simple and the plans is that approvals should be quick, nonetheless those who don’t have the necessary ETIAS approval in place will face not being able to board their flights or rejection at the EU borders.
Industry experts from across the travel spectrum offer some advice on how tour operators can prepare to avoid disappointed customers, rebookings and even requests for refunds as some travelers inevitably get rejected, forget to apply in time or simply didn’t even know the changes had come into place.
“Given that this is a new requirement, intermediaries have got to be on top of their game warning their customers or risk a lot of upset travelers and headaches” warns one expert.
“But the good news is that it should be a straightforward and quick process for the customers”.
Adding to this, another expert comments that “up-to-date booking technology can help make the whole visa process more seamless, regardless of whether that’s existing rules or new ones like the upcoming ETIAS. Equally staff training and clear instructions would be helpful to ensure consistent processes and responses. All around the world anyone booking a holiday via a retail travel agent or tour operator expects guidance on visa and entry requirements. It’s a major responsibility and part of the service travel experts provide.”
For cases where travelers aren’t prepared the knock-on effect for the travel industry will come in the form of cancellations and the inevitable requests for refunds warns finance expert. Whilst of course businesses should do everything possible to avoid this happening in the first place, the expert additionally recommends that “at the very least make sure that your payments platform can seamlessly handle any volatility without costing you both lots of money and valuable time with every refund.”
Looking at a potential hidden upside, travel insurers feel that this could be good news for the insurance industry – and those selling travel insurance – as many visa-related processes require proof of insurance. Nonetheless they warn that “such travelers are likely to opt for basic or minimal policies simply to gain their visa, so insurers will have to work harder to sell more relevant and competitively priced policies instead of the inflexible one-sized-fits-all policies that travelers don’t understand or like”.
Travel industry technology providers point out that visa and entry requirements are not just an issue for travel sellers though, hotels are often expected to provide proof of reservation letters and also guidance on rules for travelers who are arriving by car or boat and therefore don’t look to the airline for support or use a travel agent. According to experts “this is a real opportunity to add value to guests and build strong loyalty. We recommend using guest engagement tools that allow you to automate communications prior to their stay.”
In addition to this there’s even the possibility of building an ancillary revenue either by charging for a visa arrangement service or simply using the interaction to convert sales of other products, for example a transfer or room upgrade.