In the last month, I made a wonderful trip with my father through Brazil. The destination was also one of the highlights; the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Being a blockchain fan, I was very enthusiastic to witness how one of the schools that colored the fantastic parade had chosen the theme “the evolution of money” and, subsequently, also had dressed a few people like Bitcoin. The popularity of cryptocurrency has risen sharply in South America recently, mainly due to the instability of the regular (fiat) currency in countries such as Venezuela, where thousands of predominantly small companies now accept the well-known cryptocurrency Dash.

For a few years already, I have had the pleasure of carrying out various advisory processes for governments at home and abroad in the field of “Destination Marketing & Management; improving its findability and visibility of a destination”. A frequently asked question various governments posed me in recent times is ‘what will be the impact of blockchain?’ and ‘what is currently happening in the sector regarding this topic?’. The sector was valued at over $7.5 trillion (10% of global GDP) in 2018 and generates over 100 million jobs directly, according to the United Nations, and this obviously makes it interesting to review the many ways in which technology can and will have an impact. My top 10:

Demolishing The Power Of The OTAs

The power of Online Travel Agents (OTAs), such as Booking.com and Expedia, is a growing annoyance for many hoteliers and airlines. Apart from the high fees charged by OTAs, the loss of vital customer data and the increasing monopoly and additional effects are becoming a problem for affiliated companies. One of the best-known attributes for which blockchain is widely praised, and which will cause major breakthroughs, is its ability to cut out the middleman. Last year, the CEO of TUI already expressed his expectation that the technology would make “monopolistic intermediaries” (in his view, OTAs) disappear in the coming five years.

Several cool blockchain startups are already working on a solution to make this become reality. The best known is Winding Tree, which has developed a decentralized marketplace where hotels, airlines and tour operators can assist their customers directly. Contrary to the current OTAs, the platform lacks the drive for profitability or aim to obtain the biggest possible market share. It has recently managed to attract many important partners, such as KLM, Lufthansa, and AirCanada. In addition, there are also destinations that use the Winding Tree platform, such as Aruba. At present, a handful of OTAs is collecting the bulk of the revenue that the 1 million plus tourists generate for the country. By offering its own token, the country wants to decentralize its offering and grant both small and large players the same opportunities.

In addition to Winding Tree, there are around twenty other companies that are competing with the OTAs. Webjet from Australia focuses specifically on hotel bookings and has already signed up Thomas Cook and a number of very large Asian hotel chains as partners. Locktrip too focuses on hotels and has already linked 100,000 hotels to its platform. It claims to make bookings 19% cheaper on average and has recently substantiated this claim. Other well-known parties that are also pursuing greener pastures are Atlas, Blockskye, and KeyoCoin.

The Decentralized Business Sector

Just like the OTAs, blockchain will also have an interesting impact on the business sector. Several start-ups with proofs-of-concept have already developed a decentralized solution for well-known platforms such as Uber and Airbnb. One of the best known is Beetoken, which connects landlords directly with potential tenants and encapsulates the entire process, from securing payments to reviews once the agreement has ended. It wants to end the many scams that currently affect Airbnb and charges a commission that is only 20% of the fees that Airbnb charge.

The company Slock takes it one step further; they want to help the business sector in different ways by, for example, granting safe access to different types of IoT devices such as the lock of the door of a rental apartment. By arranging the entire process of concluding a transaction, including payment, to user verification and granting access, they believe they offer accommodation owners a complete solution. Organizations that are creating similar solutions are Populstay, Travala, Trip.io, and Travelblock.

Of course, the large business sector platforms recognize both the opportunities and the threats of blockchain technology. They themselves have already started implementing the technology. For example, Airbnb has acquired the ChangeCoin startup, mainly to incorporate blockchain specialists into its business. It is not known if Uber has any concrete plans to use blockchain but several parties, such as DAV, Fairride and Lazooz, are already working on making a decentralized alternative for Uber.

Digital Identity

One of the major problems the tourism sector faces is the identification of people. Issues like fraudulent payments and bookings result in high costs for companies. The various times at which a customer has to identify him/herself results in wasted time and therefore annoyance. There are already several companies, such as Shocard, that have used blockchain to devise unique solutions, making the entire process much faster, more efficient and safer. So-called ‘smart contracts’ can automatically check whether all documents, such as passports and visas, are valid and can grant access to an airport, and also store the identity document (such as a passport) on the blockchain, to enable to verification of the identity at any time. The unchangeable and distributed nature of the technology prevents fraud and helps the entire process to take place quickly and efficiently. The implementation of this is already at an advanced stage in countries such as Dubai and Aruba, while in Spain a system that only focuses on identification has already been successfully adopted.

Real Ratings & Reviews

A holiday was previously booked through a travel agency or tourist office, but now the way in which we choose a destination and book a holiday has changed completely. Many studies show that 84% of consumers consider online reviews on Google and platforms like Tripadvisor as important as word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, while 87% will not even book with a company that has negative reviews.

Unfortunately, this is also being misused; research has established that 85% of companies in the tourism sector are plagued by fake reviews. The English newspaper The Times claims that one-third of Tripadvisor reviews are fake and Harvard Business School calculated that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake.

Several friends that run a business in the sector tell me that they are sometimes even being blackmailed to offer something for free to prevent a negative review despite this is often not even justified. Blockchain technology can make a major breakthrough here since the information published on it is transparent and cannot be changed. Companies like Revain and Chlu have devised solutions that ensure that reviews can no longer be faked, changed or deleted. These are important solutions for this ever-growing problem in the sector.

Fast And Affordable Payments

The first blockchain, that of Bitcoin, began as a purely electronic “peer-to-peer cash system”, to enable digital payments without a middleman. The many applications that have already been successfully implemented, therefore, largely cover the field of ​​payments. As the global hotel industry alone was worth nearly $500 million in terms of revenue last year, you can probably imagine the insane number of transactions that are taking place in this industry. When we consider the costs that this entails, like fees charged by credit card companies and the previously-discussed OTAs, using blockchain can save a significant amount of money for both the provider and the buyer here. In addition, there are already several companies that make the transactions significantly faster and the technology itself makes the whole experience a lot safer and more traceable. Many destinations and organizations already offer payments in cryptocurrencies, such as San Francisco, Argentina, Queensland (Australia), Germany, Dubai, hotels and various booking websites. Ireland even goes one step further and introduced the IrishCoin to reward tourist loyalty in addition to payments generated. Greece has introduced “NautilusCoin”.

Becoming And Staying Loyal

Loyalty programs are very important for many organizations active in the tourism sector. However, the problem with the current programs is that consumers often do not really understand these programs and that companies often, unfortunately, fail to extract the desired data. A recent report from consultancy firm PWC describes the great opportunities loyalty programs offer when placing them on the blockchain. Collected loyalty points can be saved on the blockchain and, therefore, are immediately exchangeable and visible for the user. On the other hand, organizations can save advertising costs by making real-time, personalized offers based on the data generated and customer profiles, while fraud can be prevented. By sharing the data with chain partners (for example, an airline, car rental company, or accommodation owner), even more, interesting data can be obtained while the “booking experience” by the consumer can be optimized even further. Apart from various organizations, several countries have also placed their loyalty program on the blockchain. A well-known company that facilitates this service is Loyall, which is already used by the governments of Dubai and Norway. The companies Trippki and Deskbell have solely focused their solutions on the hotel industry.

Saving Data Securely

Not having access to their own data and systems cause nightmares for many companies. Hackers are becoming increasingly smart and nowadays install so-called “Ransomware hacks”, which means that a person or organization can only access data once a ransom has been transferred. This became painfully clear in Austria last year, where a hotel was hacked and only regained access to the hotel room keys once ransom had been paid to the hackers.
 Due to its decentralized and cryptographic nature, blockchain technology offers a great solution for safer data storage to prevent this being lost due to a cyber-attack or, for example, accidental deletion.

Never Lose Luggage Again

The loss of luggage is one of the biggest annoyances for travelers. In addition to being without clothing, not knowing where items are is very annoying and is a bad start to a journey. Last year, the international flight organization IATA stipulated in Resolution 753 that airlines should increase the number of scanning points for baggage during the journey and make these points more compatible. At the moment, blockchain is being considered in order to make the entire process, from baggage drop-off to receipt by the owner, more transparent. By giving each item a unique code, constantly scanning it and logging its location in the blockchain, the exact location of a piece will be visible in real-time. This will not just provide a great solution to consumers but also, for example, for the transport of goods.

Fewer Empty Seats And Beds

Although various technologies, such as AI and ML, have reduced the number of empty seats on airplanes and empty beds in hotels, this is still a major financial problem for providers. Travel organization TUI was the first company to publicly state that it had put all its data on the blockchain. The company, with a turnover of almost €20 billion, can view the total hotel bed stock in real time and, based on big data, still offer flexible margins through various partners. According to the CEO, their “BedSwap” project allows them to save many millions of euros per annum. The Austrian startup Avinoc does something similar to airplane seats.

New Ways Of Traveling

Recent research shows that millennials trust cryptocurrency better than shares, and as a result, the popularity of digital assets among young people is therefore high. Many organizations use this knowledge cleverly by offering special trips. Not only do they offer trips in cryptocurrency, but they also offer Blockchain Cruises for fans of this technology, an Airbnb for crypto dealers called CryptoCribs, and various tours to blockchain hubs like Zug (Switzerland).

Destinations On The Blockchain

In addition to the tourism companies and many technical suppliers with their platforms, several countries are already proactively working to apply blockchain technology in different ways within their own tourism sector. Dubai aims to have the first “blockchain government” in 2020 and already offers various working solutions with the technology, such as a decentralized distribution channel for hotel rooms. Moldova witnessed a significant increase in medical tourism through the use of blockchain technology while the head of tourism for the Russian government, Oleg Safanov, said the matter has top priority in its department. Australia even has its first Digital Currency Town.
 
According to the many companies that are working on solutions, cool new blockchain solutions for the tourism market are released every week. The question of how this will impact the industry makes me very curious!

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.