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Blockchain has been the subject of endless headlines in the last few years. From its most famous byproduct, Bitcoin, through explainers of what it is exactly, to concerns over its actual possibilities, blockchain has been all the rage for a while now.
One of the most debated points is about which real-world applications the technology might actually have. The most common industries where blockchain seems useful include banking, cyber security, and supply management.
When it comes to travel, at first glance there seems to be only one usage: cryptocurrency, and how it may (or may not) revolutionize payments when traveling internationally.
The reality is, though, that blockchain is a flexible and adaptable technology with multiple possible uses, including a handful that work just as well for travel as other sectors. We decided to take a closer look.
Applications: Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin
Blockchain has several potential applications that could be useful for travel, including booking management, loyalty programs, flight and luggage tracking, and more. Here are five of the most prominent, including some that are already being actively tested.
Blockchain’s decentralized nature could be of great use for identity management. Current private systems that store personal data are often inaccessible to the very people whose information is being collected, and vulnerable to security breaches and identity theft. Hello, Equifax.
Some experts envision a utopia where identity information is securely stored on the blockchain, managed by the individual, and shared as needed for each situation. Not everyone shares this vision, but most agree the technology will play some role in identity management in the future.
Blockchain for identity management would make several travel processes much easier and more seamless. Imagine checking in for a flight or hotel without any need for an ID card or passport, but instead using biometric or other authentication to share just the necessary information with the company or organization that’s asking for it.
Blockchain could also prove useful for sharing flight data to all parties involved: airports, airlines, and passengers. Because the technology can ensure that the same data, in the same form, is shared with all, there would be no doubts about whether everyone has the same information.
That’s quite different to the current system, where (as just one example) different times of arrival are logged in different databases, depending on who is doing the measuring.
This possibility is already being tested in a joint effort by London Heathrow airport, British Airways, and air transport technology specialist SITA.
As expressed by Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Lab, “If you have the top 50 to 100 airlines and airports putting data on blockchain, then you have a masterset for the industry that’s consistent and managed by industry governance rules for flight status. That would solve a genuine problem.
As with flight tracking, blockchain could be used to locate missing suitcases. Bags go through many hands when in transit, especially internationally, and with so many moving parts it can be hard to pinpoint who last dealt with a piece of luggage.
However, as with flight tracking, if the information (collected every time the luggage tag is scanned) was stored in blockchain, all parties could access the same database. That includes the passenger themselves, who could follow along and check whether the bag is in the cargo hold below them, or still sitting on the airport floor.
This may be the most obvious use of blockchain: secure, traceable payments. The technology can help keep a ledger of all transactions between businesses and customers, made in either crypto- or physical currencies.
This ledger, stored across many computers and accessible to all, would give each of these interactions an easily accessible digital trail. That’s highly convenient for disputes or reimbursements, and also benefits from the inherent decentralization and security of blockchain technology itself.
Travel Loyalty Programs
Travel loyalty programs can be complicated and frustrating. It’s easy to end up with multiple airline, hotel, ground transport, and other programs, each with a small balance, and none particularly useful. Redeeming your points for anything of value is often quite a challenge, if not impossible.
By exchanging all of the various point balances for tokens in a single blockchain-based system, customers could more easily check their accounts, get information on what points can be used for, and accrue a useful balance.
Startups and established technology companies are already working on this issue, so expect to see more on this in the future.
Current Projects: Blockchain-based Startups
Winding Tree was created with a purpose: to make travel transactions easier. Through its cryptocurrency, Líf, the startup aims to make travel data available via blockchain to all parties involved in a journey: hotels, airlines, transportation services, travelers, and third-party providers.
All transactions by people and businesses using Winding Tree’s service would be based on Líf. The digital currency will be good not only for purchasing services, but also for building smart contracts.
Líf, according to its creators, is not just an alternative to cash: it carries a lot of data, including travel identification, baggage tracking, and loyalty points. All transactions are recorded, and each traveler has exclusive ownership of his or her information.
Winding Tree has already received attention from some of the biggest players in the industry, and has partnerships with Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, and Nordic Choice hotels.
Just as its name suggests, Cool Cousin is full of info, tips, and recommendations for travelers. In this case, there are thousands of local Cool Cousins around the world, ready to provide knowledge and insight on their home cities.
Currently the webpage offer is centered around online city guides and recommendations, but it has plans to add booking services as well. Customers will be able to make reservations or purchases at recommended places, and locals can monetize their expertise, putting together itineraries for travelers.
These bookings and information will be paid for with CUZ, Cool Cousin’s cryptocurrency, and stored on the blockchain, accessible to all parties.
Locktrip touts itself as an accommodation booking engine with 0% commission. The startup operates as a direct marketplace for hotels and other hospitality businesses, and covers payment, property management, and other issues, without middlemen. In theory, this means lower prices for customers, and less overhead for businesses.
Customers will make the booking and pay in their home currency, which will then be converted to LOC, the cryptocurrency used by the company to pay for services. The payment will be sent to the accommodation once check out is completed, in LOC.
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Following a similar system to Locktrip, Trippki offers hotel booking services without a middleman or fees. On top of it, Trippki gives customers points for each stay, which are then turned into TRIP tokens, the company’s cryptocurrency.
Tokens can be exchanged for other stays, and they help build the reputation of travelers within the network. Users can also leave reviews after each stay, for which they will also be able to accrue reward points.
While the travel industry is still just dipping its toes into the potential of the blockchain, it seems clear that we’ll be seeing the technology used more often in the coming years. Blockchain may have just meant Bitcoin for travelers in the past, but that’s not going be the case for much longer.