Travelling in a blockchain enabled world

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by: Trond Vidar Bjorøy, Corporate Travel Tech Enthusiast / Head of Product Development & Implementation Nordics, ATPI.

I was on my way home from work when I received a notification on my smartband. It was Pat, my TMC’s bot, saying now would be the ideal time to book to get the best flight price for my regular trip to our office in London three weeks later.

Pat sent me the recommended itinerary, which included flights and hotel. When calculating the best fare for me, the TMC takes our travel policy as well as my past trip history and personal preferences into consideration. And they nail it every time. Happy with the suggestion all I had to do was confirm the trip.

Pat told me that my hotel reservation was my company’s 200th room night, booked more than one week in advance, at the hotel this year. This triggered one of the clauses in the smart contract between my company and the hotel to execute, bringing the agreed room rate down by 20 percent. The flights and hotel were instantly charged to my company’s account. I’m still getting used to the feeling of not having to do expenses any more! Being a good employee who follows travel policy and books through the right channel sure isn’t the hassle it used to be.

Remembering that my London flight more often than not was going to be slightly delayed, I accepted Pat’s offer to add a flight delay insurance to my trip. Better safe than sorry. I’m paying for these types of services from my personal wallet so the funds were transferred immediately.

As I had finished my booking and lowered my hand, my band again joined the billions of other connected devices, donating its idle processing power to mining. Whenever I’m not using it it’s serving the peer-to-peer network and the running of the blockchain where I keep most of my assets and information.

My flight was delayed. The airline announcement sent to my band said the aircraft had a defective part and even though supply chains these days are better than ever – apparently the airlines now simply download the blueprint for the part that needs replacing, with the blockchain verifying that the file hasn’t been tampered with, and then they 3D print it – it was still going to take them a while to replace the old part though so a new aircraft was brought in.

Two hours later I could finally walk up to the facial recognition scanner and enter the plane. As I found my seat and the plane took off I received a notification from Pat, telling me my delay insurance policy had been activated and the premium added to my wallet. Easy money.

Another notification, this time from the airline confirming that my reward points for the flight had been credited to my wallet. I decided to spend some of the points on in-flight shopping and the rest on a suite upgrade for my hotel stay that night. Not sure how we ever managed without interoperable loyalty programs?

As I landed at Heathrow and walked towards border control (the blockchain hasn’t erased borders yet but we might get there one day) I was thinking how great this universal ID thing is. Using the same digital ID to book my trip, board a plane and cross a border is just really convenient. And the best thing is that my data isn’t stored in any central databases or owned by any corporates. It sits on the blockchain, verifiable and immutable. The suppliers that have touchpoints throughout my journey are all able to connect to the same database and access my data, when they need it. The TMC for instance, usually needs my contact details and travel preferences. The airline on the other hand needs to authenticate my identity to verify my booking while border control could require my passport or visa.

The beauty of it is, I decide which data is shared, to whom and when. I can explicitly share different data sets with different suppliers, only displaying the information they need at that exact moment. I can also set up specific permissions using smart contracts – conditional logic coded into the ledger – that define who can access my information and documents and when. The information is right there in my wallet, always available when needed. It’s freedom, privacy and security in a beautiful unity. And no more big data about me floating around in corporate databases. My data is private, thank you very much.

Outside the terminal in London I needed to catch up on some of the lost time so I messaged Pat to get me a ride. A couple of minutes later I was sitting in a self-driving car booked through the company’s preferred decentralized ride-sharing service. On my way to the office I couldn’t help but think there really wasn’t a true sharing economy before these distributed autonomous organisations came along. A few years ago there were corporations that claimed to have enabled ‘sharing’ but in reality they were just aggregating the services of others and charging fees for it, acting as intermediaries between consumers. Then when these new types of organisations emerged, existing only in code, and the laws finally were revisioned, the once so disruptive startups, by then evolved into powerful multibillion-dollar companies, became less relevant and ripe for disruption themselves. Nowadays all revenue goes directly to the vehicle owner. No fees to a centralized company mediating the orders – because there isn’t one. And payments are processed in minutes and seconds instead of days and weeks.

After a productive day at the office I walked over to the hotel. My room door unlocked as the smart lock connected to my band via near-field communication. This triggered the payout of my loyalty points which I transferred to my wife’s wallet. Finally we had enough points needed to book our summer holidays.

On my way to the airport the next day I was a bit careless and a car bumped into me as I crossed the road. I injured my leg, nothing serious, but I was taken to the emergency room for a check up. It’s not only travel that is enjoying the blockchain, healthcare is now more efficient and secure as well and sharing my medical records and getting patched up was done in a couple of hours. I had missed my flight though, something Pat had already picked up and rebooked me to the next available one the morning after.

I needed to get a room for the night so Pat arranged an apartment for me close to the airport, booked through the distributed lodging service organisation. I never was quite comfortable using these services before but ever since the reputation of the homes and their owners became guaranteed by the blockchain, it feels secure and I’m no longer worried I’ll get any unpleasant surprises. Oh, and my reputation as a renter gets stored as well by the way so that’s my incentive for being a good person… And I can carry my reputation with me over to other vendors and services if I wish to, benefitting from continuity as a good person.

Meanwhile, at the office…

Our travel manager, who at the time of my booking was looking at her real-time travel data application, received an on-screen notification from Pat about my newly created reservation. It brought a little smile to her face when her reporting dashboard instantly updated with the fresh data of my in-policy booking, which also showed some real savings. In addition, my trip contributed to an increase in our company’s bot share. We hit the 80 percent bot bookings threshold, activating a clause in our TMC contract which lowered our fee for future bookings by another 10 percent.

***

OK, maybe my story is a little contrived (and biased 🙂 but I do hope it provided some inspiration. When we overcome all impediments (technical, regulatory, security, privacy, cost, social/cultural…) and services really start getting integrated with the blockchain, these could be some of the innovations we’ll see. For more on some of these use cases I recommend Don Tapscott’s book ‘Blockchain Revolution’. Much of my inspiration comes from it.

The IoT wearables connected to the blockchain, the chatbots etc – feel free to replace these technologies with the tech of your preference. I just used them to illustrate some of the possibilities that blockchain enables.

Because remember: Ultimately, like mobile, like the internet, and like computers before that, Blockchain is not the thing. It’s the thing that enables the thing.

These words from Bart Suichies become clear when looking at other emerging technologies. One example is IoT. Without the trust that the decentralized nature of the blockchain offers it’s going to be difficult ensuring the security, efficiency and interoperability that has to surround these devices. It needs the blockchain to mitigate risk. If we look at 3D printing, the blockchain could be used to prevent double spend – helping realize the true potential of the technology and move away from just using it to print “toys”, to storing and printing unique, exclusive items and intellectual property. In short, blockchain can help other technologies and some of them can help blockchain too.

For the travel industry, the question is perhaps if we’re willing to take the steps necessary to really enable blockchain to help us on a larger scale. None of it’s going to happen overnight or without some major effort from the whole industry. The travel industry is somewhat comparable to the financial service industry in the sense that we in several areas still rely on decades old legacy infrastructures and processes. Look at e.g. flight and hotel distribution, a spaghetti of fragmented proprietary solutions with these huge walls between them. And as in finance, we’ve seen lots of innovation in the front but little in the back end. Yes, there are attempts at introducing standards but those that try to embrace the industry as a whole don’t have the backing needed.

There are some deeper problems this industry must deal with that can’t be fixed by simply throwing new technologies at them. We need someone to break the status quo and really disrupt this industry. We need more open-source development projects and to enable the collaboration between developers. So, who will lead the transformation that our industry needs?

If you enjoyed this text you might also want to check out my article Blockchain in Travel for Dummies.

Trond Vidar Bjorøy, Corporate Travel Tech Enthusiast / Head of Product Development & Implementation Nordics, ATPI

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