Blockchain, so we are told, is a solution without a problem. Repeatedly, articles in the media say how Blockchain doesn’t have a real role, how it is being over-promoted, how it will eventually shuffle away and join the elephant’s graveyard of technologies that never quite made it. Rather than hype, Blockchain’s reputation seems to exhibit all the symptoms of anti-hype.
And yet, and yet… when, in preparation for Travel Forward, we researched potential delegates and speakers about the most important technology themes in travel and hospitality today, Blockchain kept coming up. Not only this, but the capability was being researched, investigated, trialled. That’s pretty interesting, for a technology that doesn’t have any future.
Let’s take a couple of steps back: what is Blockchain, anyway? The ideas behind it came from Bitcoin, that other technology that has not been without a fair share of controversy. Essentially, if you want to have a globally accessible, distributed currency, you also need a globally accessible, distributed ledger system. In supra-layman’s terms, Blockchain is tantamount to an infinitely writeable, shared spreadsheet.
Of course it’s more complicated than that. I could go into the way that updates take place, or synchronisation and sharing, or how encryption enables non-repudiation and provenance, but the long and the short is, when you write something to “the Blockchain”, everyone can see it and nobody can change it without the changes showing. Which makes it useful for all kinds of applications where you want visibility, immutability and transparency.
And, it would appear, the travel industry is all over it. Consider TUI’s stated desire to move its data to a blockchain, potentially boosting profits and disrupting the hold of intermediaries and OTAs. The organisations we researched were looking to Blockchain for loyalty schemes, customer transactions and even luggage tracking, indeed, any scenario which needs the kinds of shared data access that Blockchain can bring.
Such initiatives have raised a number of questions, not least that it delivers on its promise. “How can it be actually be implemented where it makes business sense, is scalable and decentralised as it is suppose to be?” asked one respondent. Said another, “New companies are promising the world to potential clients and there are already scams popping up.” Others were concerned about how blockchain-based approaches could be integrated intelligently across processes, and meanwhile there’s the question of how to assure customer privacy.
Overall, travel companies do seem to think Blockchain is more than just hype. At the end of the day, the technological capability is just that — a shared stream of data that can be added to at will and accessed from anywhere. No doubt it will find its level, and its use cases, across the industry and open up opportunities that we haven’t yet thought of.
Hosted by Dave Montali, CIO of WindingTree, the Tech Trend session: “Will Blockchain save your travel company?” runs at 11.55 on Monday 5 November in the Enabling Technologies stream of Travel Forward.
About the author: Jon Collins is the Content Director for Travel Forward. Read more