BLS bags 5-year exclusive contract with Embassy of Brazil in China, expects 10 to 15% y-o-y revenue growth
Aggressively bidding for new contracts globally and in India, BLS International expects 10 to 15 per cent year-on-year business revenue. To further understand the company's vision, BW HOTELIER got in touch with Shikhar Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director of BLS International Services Ltd, who provides insightful information about the company’s growth plans and his outlook on India as a tourist hub.
A tech-enabled specialty service provider for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, BLS International has partnered with over 36 governments across the world to offer outsourced visa, passport, consular, verification and attestation and e-visa services. The company recently achieved an exclusive five year contract was with the Embassy of Brazil in China that mandates BLS to operate 15 centres across China wherein they are expecting to process over 4,00,000 applications during the contract. Apart from it, BLS also won contract to process Portugal Visa Applications in Russia from 22 locations and from the Republic of Estonia to provide services with regards to issuance of digital ID to residents granted by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil and South African Republic.
BLS International has been thriving, not only globally but in India as well. The company recently got approval to handle Uttar Pradesh Jan Sewa Kendras (Customer Service Centres) Project wherein they will provide G2C & B2C Services to citizens through digital platform. Various public services from different government departments are delivered through these centres to the people of UP.
BW HOTELIER got in touch with Shikhar Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director of BLS International Services Ltd, who provides insightful information about the company’s vision, growth plans and his outlook on India as a tourist hub.
With travel restrictions easing up slowly, when do you expect the true revival of the industry?
There will definitely be a surge in tourism as soon as countries remove restrictions. Travel is already beginning to pick up with commencement of vaccination across the globe and eagerness of people to travel is enormous after such a vacuum. We are experiencing a new travel phenomenon known as Staycations and revenge tourism which we believe is here to stay as more countries emerge from lockdown. It is evident from the trend that shows travellers from India, Pakistan, Belarus, Russia, Nigeria, Norway and Ghana have been actively applying for e-visa during Covid times for countries like UAE, Maldives, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, Kenya, Maldova, Malawi, Antigua, Egypt, Gabon, Kuwait, Madagascar, Tanzania and Tajikistan. We have already seen a Christmas & New Year rush across the country as well as world over and we can expect the industry to reach pre-covid levels by first quarter of FY22 with Covid-19 vaccination at full swing globally.
How do you differentiate BLS from other key players in the industry?
BLS is s a tech-enabled specialty service provider for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. We have partnered with over 36 governments across the world to offer outsourced visa, passport, consular, verification and attestation and e-visa services. Over the past 15 years, BLS has scaled services to reach over 62 countries registering itself as the only listed player in the domain.
The distinctive culture at BLS is that of ‘agility’. It’s this principal strength of the company which is reflected in our outperformance derived from the ability to excel. At BLS, agility has made it possible for us to respond to opportunities, market requirements and roll out services with speed while transforming our responsiveness into a competitive advantage. We have gauged the diverse needs of governments and created customised solutions by investing ahead of the curve in technology, training, people and service delivery. This core strength of BLS has helped it to extend into complementary business spaces, and widening presence across the globe.
We bagged the Punjab Sewa Kendra (PSK) project in 2016 wherein we provide Government to Citizen (G2C) services. Proving our mettle with Punjab Sewa Kendras (PSK) in India, over the years we won global contracts for similar kind of citizen services from governments globally. Our Punjab Sewa Kendras have processed more than 24 million applications till date.
Our subsidiary, StarFin has a network of over 1,600 centres across 11 North Indian states. StarFin acts as a business facilitator to traditional financial service providers lacking the last mile connectivity. Starfin is licenced as the National Banking Correspondent (BC) for State Bank of India & Corporate BC for Uttarakhand Gramin Bank. We bring financial inclusion & provide last mile connectivity to the unserved and underserved rural population of India.
Given the unprecedented times, how did the brand cope up? Please mention the new norms adapted.
It is an honour to be part of Vande Bharat Mission by Govt of India which is world’s largest repatriation exercise, even in such adverse times during complete lockdown our staff members worked tirelessly going out of the schedules to accommodate consular needs of our fellow citizens.
Despite these challenges and pessimistic global scenario, we have managed to post healthy financial performance. This has been possible because our consular, citizen services and banking correspondent businesses have performed wonderfully well. We are delighted to be part of DBT Direct benefit transfer programme by the Government of India wherein our venture alone has facilitated transactions to tune of ~350 cr to the marginalised section of the society. BLS has maintained higher EBIDTA margins due to increased demand of these services and various additional value-added services like courier services, VIP lounge, mobile biometric, home collection, etc. along with our continuous focus on streamlining the costs in-line with the level of operations.
Lately, we have experienced that with safety as the utmost priority, travellers are shelling out extra money for ease of access, premium/ priority services or home/ mobile services. Travel bubble, vaccine passports, low-touch travel are some of the new norms that are looked upon by the industry.
How has BLS performed over the past year? Please support your answer with pre-covid and post-covid figures.
We operate in asset light model, diversification towards e-governance services and continuous focus on streamlining the cost in line with level of operations have made us stand strong through the global pandemic.
Last year, we had couple of wins globally; the most recent win was with the Embassy of Brazil in China. It’s a five-year exclusive contract that mandates BLS to operate 15 centres across China wherein we are expecting to process over 4,00,000 applications during the contract. Earlier to this, we were mandated by Brazil Embassy in Lebanon for visa application processing. We also won the contract to process Portugal Visa Applications in Russia from 22 locations and got accredited by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to run finger printing services for Government of Canada. Also, BLS won contract from the Republic of Estonia to provide services with regards to issuance of digital ID to residents granted by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil and South African Republic.
Our Punjab Government Citizen services and Consular services have shown signs of growth with volumes at pre-covid levels while visa application services ready to deliver in the coming quarters with better realizations on the back of increased usage of value-added services.
Visa process is often labelled as a burdened process. What sort of new technology has been adapted for seamless customer experience?
BLS has 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. Our centres undertake document scanning to verify the authentication of the travel documents and match them with the repository of the approved documents. Travel Documents like passports and E-residency cards recognition are being used to recognize a blocked/blacklisted traveller as part of security clearance with help of AI driven algorithms. We use interactive methods (like chat bots) to enable the traveller with current status of the travel document. We harness OCR technology for e-visa processing that enables faster processing at the comfort of applicant’s home/ office. We also provide Identity Management services with advanced biometric and finger printing scanners used with different levels of checks & balances on real-time basis.
With stringent data privacy & security compliances, organizational approach to data management is strictly adhered encompassing the full life cycle of data with clearly defined guidelines about privacy, protection, retention and disposal of data as per law of the land.
Please shed some light on the company's expansion plans? Any new contracts with different countries?
The growing cross-border tourism is anticipated to enhance the need for outsourced consular and visa services, resulting in more opportunities in the segment. While our existing contract with governments such as Brazil, Hungary, Italy, USA, Spain, Canada, Estonia, Lebanon, Portugal, etc. continues to grow strong, our relations with these governments shall enable us to win more contracts in the vicinity of visas, e-visas, e-governance (citizen) services globally.
We had won the Spain global contract in 2016 and since then Spain has ranked as the 2nd most visited nation for last 5 years (Total tourist arrival of ~84 mn in 2019). Based on the last 5-year data, Spain has witnessed the 2nd fastest growth of 6 per cent CAGR in Visa applications, after Germany. Extrapolating this, we believe Spain can surpass Germany and Italy to gain 2nd rank by 2023 (post COVID-19 situation) which will be a moat to our business.
With all the above, we are expecting current business revenue to grow by 10 per cent – 15 per cent year on year with our existing business while we are aggressively bidding for new contracts globally and in India. Adding to that would be our efforts in inorganic growth opportunities that align with our business capabilities.
Our most recent win is of Uttar Pradesh Jan Sewa Kendras (Customer Service Centres) Project wherein BLS provides G2C & B2C Services to citizens through digital platform. Various public services from different government departments are delivered through these centres to the people of UP. In this contract, BLS is mandated to operate Jan Sewa Kendras across the state, wherein we will provide various public services, G2C services and B2C services, to the citizens using our platforms.
According to you, how can we promote India as a tourist hub?
Post PM’s appeal to citizens in August 2019 to visit atleast 15 tourist destinations in India, we saw a spike in domestic tourism. In fact, many travel partners launched campaigns promoting Indian travel destinations and it helped in bringing Indian Tourism to the limelight and augmented interest not only in Indians but foreign nationals as well.
Additionally, with the likely shift of supply chains from China will prove to be a boon for India as a tourist hub. As many international brands will look at India as the principal supplier for their products, it will definitely increase their travel and interest for the country. And an ease of visa application process can go a long way in attracting international tourists. India is amongst the earliest countries to outsource Consular, Passport and Visa related services across the globe which has led to an increase in Indian tourism at 8% CAGR in the last ten years. We are a trusted partner for Indian visa processing for over a decade now by providing consular and visa services in countries like Canada, UAE, Russia, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Oman, Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Norway, Philippines & Hong Kong. BLS has developed the entire system into a seamless progression including automation of processes, application submission, appointments, helplines, collection and remittance of fees on applicant’s behalf, biometric enrolment and a host of value-added services.
In the past quarter, we have seen a surge in Indian Visa applications from countries such as Canada, Oman, China, UAE, Philippines, Russia and Hong Kong.
Over the years, our technology-driven innovative solutions have revolutionised the way visa & passport services are managed at our Indian Visa Application Centres. The company provides a broad suite of service offerings designed to securely manage visa applications, e-visas and resident permits. BLS, on behalf of the Indian MoFA, ensures identity assessment, information verification, and biometric and biographic information collection as per the Governments’ specification.
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