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Travel visas as a service: Timing your offerings

Visa requirements are expanding. How are you preparing travellers?

Hundreds of millions of travellers apply for visas and travel authorizations each year. As visa requirements continue to expand, travel companies now play a crucial role in enhancing the customer experience by intentionally timing their visa advice and services.

Offer visa services too early, and travellers aren’t ready to apply; too late, and they’ve already applied elsewhere. By understanding when travellers are ready to apply for visas, travel companies can seize the moment and provide tailored assistance at the right time, enabling more customers to move freely.

Visa services, such as sherpa°, help travel companies surface advice and services to at the right time. So then, it begs the questions what is the “right time” that helps travellers save time, reduce uncertainty, and increase the likelihood that their visas are approved?

When do travellers get their visas?

Sherpa° has conducted proprietary research to determine the optimal timing for offering visa advice and services that allows travellers to make informed decisions on acquiring their travel documentation. Sherpa° surveyed travellers who applied for a visa at least once in the past 5 years:

When asked, “When did you apply for your visa?”

  • 44% applied before booking their flight
  • 56% applied after booking their flight
  • 12% were within 10 days of booking
  • 15%  were within 10 days of travelling ("last-minute")
  • 29% applied some other time between booking & travelling

* Travellers did not need to apply through sherpa° to participate in the survey.

Based on these figures, we start to see the importance of offering visa services early in the travel journey - typically at or close to the point of booking. The opportunity to advise travellers and sell these services drops rapidly as travellers approach their trip.

How have we seen this information impact our partners?

So how early should travel companies offer visa services? To start answering this question, we can look at sherpa°’s proprietary sales data:

A key metric we track is search-to-purchase conversion: out of all users shown a visa offer, how many purchase a visa? Our data shows that search-to-purchase conversion is highest 30-40 days before travel and lowest 0-10 days before travel. In fact, users who search for a trip 30-40 days away have a 6x higher conversion compared to users searching for trips 0-10 days away. Conversion, 40-60 days before travel, is almost 4x higher than conversion 0-10 days before travel.

This conversion data is interesting when viewed in the context of airline booking trends: in 2017, 60% of US international leisure travellers purchased their flight >22 days before their trip [source]. This suggests that travellers book their trip and purchase their visa around the same time.

Visa purchase trends: cycles & seasonality

Sherpa°’s historical sales data reveals trends that can tell us more about when travellers get their visas:

1. Visa sales are concentrated at the start of each month: The first 7 days of the month were the highest 7-day sales period in 8 out of 11 months from April 2022 to February 2023. This aligns with monthly airline booking cycles, as airlines run sales promotions at the start of each month. This further suggests that travellers are applying for their visas at a similar time to when they book their flights.

2. Visa sales align with booking seasons: Sherpa° saw sales climb through the summer of 2022, before peaking in September. Sales remained stable until a December dip, and rebounded strongly in January 2023 - also aligning with booking trends.

How can travel companies use this information?

Travel providers can optimize their border and visa requirements touchpoints by using insights about when travellers get their visas, keeping in mind that each partner is unique and will have different optimizations.

Tips for travel providers:

  • Evidence suggests that visa offerings should be timed close to booking
  • Don't offer visas too early or too late in the traveller journey

Recently, one of our partners tripled their visa sales by making offers earlier in the traveller journey. Before their changes, 75% of their sales came at the last minute. Since their changes, last-minute applicants make up only 20% of their sales.

Example (a) of a sherpa partner who tripled their sales by offering visas earlier in the traveller journey.

Another one of our partners also tripled their visa sales by sending visa-dedicated messaging immediately after the point of booking. This “budget travel” partner has a heavy focus on trips to the United States and Canada, which are typically booked 1-30 days from the date of travel. The increase and distribution of sales are directly correlated to the timing of their visa offering.

Are you ready to unlock the informative and ancillary potential of visas?

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