At the recently concluded IATA World Financial Symposium (WFS) held in Doha, Natalia Ansell, VP, Head of Visa Business Solutions (VBS), CEMEA, participated in a panel focused on the future of airline payments where she discussed ‘Digital Payments Are Powering a New Future for Travel’.
On the sidelines of the event, Ansell spoke to Gulf Times to elaborate on the latest trends in digital payments and Visa’s crucial role in making a safer and more secure experience with payments available to customers.

Gulf Times: Given the rapid growth in travel, aggregators, online travel agencies, and metasearch sites face unique challenges. What can they learn from the pandemic experience and how can they automate, streamline, and digitise payments for suppliers while adding big data?
Ansell: There are many ways to make payments and to do it fast. An important aspect of this is verifying the payment and validating if there are funds available to make the payment.
Transactions in Visa Network offer real-time authorization. Other forms of payment, such as a cheque, for example, would take days or longer to validate. Advancements in virtual cash technology create more seamless experiences and boost efficiency and security, they help to reduce fraud, improve transparency of transactions and deliver cost savings by reducing manual back-office processes. Unlike cheques or cash that can be stolen, or payment documents that can be forged, digital transactions offer more security and robustness. Obviously, security and trust remain critical, particularly as travel adapts to a digital-first world and people use their cards overseas more frequently. Today’s demand for digital money movement requires a refreshed security approach. Visa invests in security and fraud prevention. In fact, Visa, over the last five years, has invested $9bn in cybersecurity and fraud control to make sure that the platform is robust.

How can Visa’s B2B virtual card payment solutions solve pressure points in the GCC travel industry?
Every country and every region is unique. And at the same time, there are global trends. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in contactless payments by travelers since the pandemic - these new habits will persist especially as we see faster, simpler payment experiences. This is vital for the travel sector and for travelers for many reasons, most notably as it removes the old, often troublesome payment hurdles that people face when they first arrive in a new country regarding a foreign currency, taxis, and train tickets.
The GCC is obviously a very interesting region. It is now under the spotlight because of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But also, it is wonderful to look at the UAE, which is building its tourism industry; and Dubai which is diversifying financial services and tourism and investing in technology. With concerns over COVID still in people’s thoughts, services that eliminate the need for physical contact during a journey are boosting traveler confidence – they are also becoming expected as a new norm. In the UAE, we have seen contactless and mobile payments surge in popularity - they are up 60% and 67% respectively since the pandemic shifted people’s attitudes towards cash and cards.
As a global company, we’re bringing all of these different trends to see how we can leverage them and what we can give to consumers and businesses here in the GCC.
Visa is constantly investing in innovative ways to make commerce more convenient for travelers - from tap to pay to click to pay and digital wallets. Digital payment solutions are there to improve cities’ urban mobility, making their transportation systems efficient, sustainable, and appealing. As part of our ongoing push for innovation and client ease of service, we’re enabling a new era of lightweight payment acceptance tech that requires nothing more of a merchant than owning a mobile phone.
We're looking at all of the use cases and everything that we believe is an interesting trend or something that makes experiences richer and more efficient for clients here, who I believe are very savvy and well financially educated.
One of the things that we’re noticing is that governments in the GCC, especially after the pandemic, are very focused on wanting to migrate cash and cheques to digital. We applaud governments around the GCC for being so focused on security, building trust, and validating information in nearly real time.
I think Qatar is very focused on making sure that it leverages the experience from the World Cup, for example, allowing multiple daily flights from Dubai to Qatar just for the matches. Such big scale sports events are immensely important because they become a big catalyst for what happens afterward with infrastructure, including payments.
That just shows that it’s not only about Qatar but making sure that the experience is broader; that there is collaboration. And other countries will definitely benefit from that, which is a win-win for everybody because people will keep coming back. It is a wonderful example of how to anchor, build, and highlight Qatar, but also to embrace the broader GCC and make sure that the overall experience stays a positive one.

Expand more on the current situation in payments related to the airline business. For example, the current benefits that airline customers are seeking in payment instruments. Is the payment market more fragmented by country or is consolidation taking place?

It’s a little bit of both. Travelers have been swift in their embrace of new digital solutions. With digital solutions top of people’s mind right now. Particularly new B2B solutions and contactless options. Global spending on travel is bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels with leisure travel leading the way, including airlines and travel services that lagged in 2021.
If there’s anything that the pandemic highlighted, it’s that the world is a global place. And that is exactly what’s happening with technology, as well as with payments. Nowadays, every business is in the payments business - because payments are everywhere and are expected to be easy and secure by everyone. As an industry leader that prides itself on innovative solutions and products, we understand that consumers have evolved to expect to make payments digitally with ease. If you’re so passionate about a business or a great idea but want to keep it within the borders of one country, that is just not going to happen. In regards of travel, we’ve seen a blurring of boundaries between online and physical experiences with new options becoming available.
As a global company with much experience in local dynamics, Visa is able to deliver on a global scale. This responsibility is also a privilege to be the platform that scales local innovations with the right technologies and helps them go global.

Kindly discuss alternative forms of payment, such as instant transfers and buy now, pay later (BNPL). Is it possible for them to work together (or not) with card products?
Buzzwords like ‘BNPL’ and ‘instant payments’ are common in our industry, and it’s good when people get excited about payments; however, it’s all about presenting consumers with choice. We like to think that as Visa, we don’t pick winners and losers, but are here to present options to businesses and end-users. At the end of the day, it’s the consumers who pick the technologies they most want and need. As Visa, we enable BNPL, which is one of the many ways that help make the experience richer and provides people access to certain experiences.
From Visa’s perspective, I would highlight two examples of our recent partnerships powering global money movement. The first is directly related to open banking and open architecture. We all love digital experiences and apps tend to be omnipresent. This is why earlier this year, Visa acquired Tink, a leading Open Data and Open Banking platform in Europe – enabling us to lead innovation through data and insights and expansive new partnerships. Collaborations such as this are crucial to building a strong, sustainable, and secure open data ecosystem.
The second partnership is about cross border and global currency – our acquisition of Currencycloud, a business that provides complete transparency of sales. Currencies are still here to stay and when customers make those payments in different currencies, it involves a big deal of decision-making, foreign exchange comes into play and people don’t want that to be a barrier when they sell or buy in currencies with which they are not familiar and want the exact price to be clear. Currencycloud is a fintech that enables clients and partners to offer digital-first travel payment solutions, including multi-currency wallets and real-time notification of exchange rates, ultimately making it a more aware and better experience.