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Dubai: UAE travel is back with a vengeance, says a senior official at VFS Global.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Monaz Billimoria, Deputy Regional Head - UAE & Qatar, VFS Global, said that while the pandemic put a pause in travel owing to border restrictions, people are now fed up and want to go on a holiday.

VFS Global (Visa Facilitation Services Global) manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-discretionary tasks for its client governments.

What is better, border restrictions are easing. Travellers are now more confident to go on a holiday.

- Monaz Billimoria, Deputy Regional Head - UAE & Qatar, VFS Global

“What is better, border restrictions are easing. Travellers are now more confident to go on a holiday. In fact, what we are seeing is a case of revenge tourism where it is no more about where people want to go. It is about when people can go,” Billimoria said.

Monaz Billimoria say in January alone, VFS Global has processed 20,378 visas from UAE. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Billimoria, who joined the VFS Global entity in 2012 and started her stint in the UAE three years ago, said: “In 2021, VFS Global processed 254,851 visas from UAE. In January alone, 20,378 visas were processed. For the record, there are 68 visa application centres in the UAE, of which 38 are in Dubai and 30 in Abu Dhabi.”

“During the lockdown period in 2020, everything was completely shut down for almost three months. As an organisation, we used that time to get ourselves out of the turmoil," she said.

"We utilised the lockown period to learn so we could go digital. When we opened, we had client governments which were allowing us to start their passport business. Today, the Phillippines passport renewals are done with VFS and in 2021, 85,261 passports were renewed. In January alone this year, 8,411 Philippine passports were renewed.”

Talking about the digital push, she said “We had to redesign the way we work. We improved our digital platforms and we continue going down that path. This is the future. The pandemic was a bit of a catalyst and pushed us. It helped people to reconnect on different platforms and people got to engage digitally. But most of all, it brought in a consumer change.”

Billimoria said it has been a case of revenge tourism. “When the borders opened, we worked hard to get things back on track. Many countries opened borders at the same time so it was a very busy time for us. It was a harder restart in that sense.”

She said: “We had to spruce up our act and get going. What we also saw was that residents in UAE were fed up of sitting at home. The public at large wanted to travel. It was revenge tourism at its best. It did not matter where people wanted to go. They were just ready to go anywhere.”

Where are people travelling to?

From UAE, the UK is a top destination where residents want to travel. “Also France, Germany and Turkey are other locales people want to travel to. There is also Canada. Australia has also just announced opening its borders so we expect to see travel here.”

As the Deputy Regional Head - UAE & Qatar for VFS, Billimoria is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with client governments. She is responsible for operational and financial performance targets.

“I work for an organisation that believes in mobility of its people, especially the leadership. My family lives in India. As a woman living on my own, I feel very safe here in the UAE. Women are respected in this country and treated very well. I have never felt out of place in this country. The UAE is a very safe and secure environment,” she said, adding her husband is a solicitor in Mumbai.