By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Maria Romero
How might blockchain technology enhance trust and authenticity in the travel experience?
In today’s travel industry, authenticity has become a powerful draw. Travelers increasingly want authentic experiences—providing cultural insights while avoiding mass travel packages. Authenticity embraces honest advertising and customer experience, factors that industry providers have total control over. Now, there is a high-tech disruptor emerging that could help travel industry businesses offer greater authenticity and share the benefits with customers in numerous ways: blockchain.
Blockchain is the transaction tracking platform for Bitcoin, the leading digital cryptocurrency. Blockchain is a secure public ledger that that can capture and encode all transactions in any given currency and a range of other types of information such as traveler details. Globally, numerous cryptocurrencies are available, each with its own blockchain.
In the future, some or all nations may have their own digital currency; however, the borderless cryptocurrency concept rather defies notions of nation-states, sovereign currencies, and centralized banks. Imagine travelers unburdened by exchange rates or bank fees and providers accepting payment from anyone who has a digital wallet. At the philosophical level, blockchains and cryptocurrencies embody a rebellion against intermediaries like banks and credit card companies.
Payments are the most obvious and immediate travel application, and progressive vendors aware of blockchain’s potential are beginning to accept cryptocurrency payments. From a purist’s perspective, a blockchain renders banks unnecessary middlemen—speeding “peer-to-peer” payments between buyer and seller.
Eventually, blockchains could enable entirely new forms of value, e.g. future cash alternatives could be invented and tracked on blockchains, including “sharing” points earned on social media sites, credits for community involvement (e.g. after school tutoring), or rewards for contributing to neighborhood recycling, sustainability, and conservation efforts. Just as hotel and taxi operators ignored the disruptive and costly impact of simple customer-centric apps like Uber and Airbnb, could blockchain weave new and unnoticed threats into the tourism ecosystem?
The tourism industry is increasingly basing growth strategies on personalization—loyalty schemes and targeted marketing programs that rely on knowing the individual’s identity. However, a blockchain protects personal identity, anonymizing users, enforcing secure validation, and making identity theft impossible. Whilst immigration authorities would still need proof of identity, the rest of the industry value chain might only know of you as authorized traveler #6759704.
On perhaps a more positive note, blockchain customer validation could diminish queues and wait times as a lot of the processing could take place in transit. Over time, travelers could also regain a feeling of anonymity and freedom, rather than one of being surveilled, tracked, and owned. If we can link the human in front of us to their unique blockchain profile (possibly through biometrics), all other ID checks become irrelevant.
If we choose, our blockchain personal identities could contain more than just passport information—preferences could be shared during the trip, so every service along the journey can be uniquely tailored without ever knowing our name unless we provide it. For providers, the consequences of a cyberattack are greatly diminished as the underlying customer data is anonymized and secure.
Blockchain is poised to have a potentially dramatic impact on travel in the next 5 to 10 years. Blockchain could disrupt every step of the industry value chain by mainstreaming alternative currencies, securing irrefutable identities, reducing transaction costs, and challenging current marketing thinking. Indeed, blockchains, coupled with other exponentially accelerating technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, hyperconnectivity, and the Internet of things, could transform society.
The challenge for travel sector leaders is to ensure that their organization has deep and widespread understanding of the nature of these new technologies and the previously unimaginable travel concepts, service offerings, business models, operational challenges, and strategic options they could enable. At the heart of the challenge is digital literacy and the mindset change that goes with it. Within twelve months we’ll be bored of talking about the need for mindset change—best to get a head start.
- What might be the biggest impacts of blockchain for the travel industry when coupled with other potentially disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence or the Internet of things?
- How might blockchain affect the travel industry’s marketing strategies going forward?
- As customers, under what circumstances would we want to share our personal data if we didn’t need to?
This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.
Image: https://pixabay.com/images/id-4051664/ by geralt