The baby & the bath water…

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Leveraging the transformational power of blockchain and the emerging public blockchain platforms to make practical, real-world solutions for travel retail.

Photo by Taras Shypka on Unsplash

Blockchain has generated a level of hype not witnessed since the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s and early noughties. Many academics, industry watchers and nascent observers have either christened blockchain as a global cure-all or a solution in search of a problem. As the Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fever of 2017 wears off, and the dust settles, there are those that won and those that lost. But the technology that underpins that gold rush still holds potential. Just perhaps not as far and wide and as quickly as once was initially thought. Too many unknowns, too many assumptions, too many new technology paradigms. So at Traversel, we started to think well what does all this mean? How can we leverage the transformational power of blockchain and the emerging public decentralised blockchain platforms and make a practical, real-world solution that bridges the gap between what currently can be done and marrying existing best of breed technical solutions to get the ball rolling?

As a travel-related technology business, we have a vested interest in both travel and blockchain. The travel industry is a complicated industry that is perennially at the forefront of disruption. Many travel-related ICOs have taken place, but the majority of them are blockchain clones of existing business models. A handful of more ambitious projects are looking to harness the real potential of the blockchain through the creation of open, public, decentralised platforms. Winding Tree is one such project with noble ambitions which has just completed a successful Token Generation Event (TGE). Travel Ledger is another blockchain platform that has recently announced its presence. At Traversel we wholly agree with the need to improve the overall travel offering and feel strongly that public decentralised blockchain solutions present the best opportunity to create real innovation. Despite the considerable effort and real progress presently going into resolving the well documented technical shortcomings (e.g. scaling, identity, data storage, interoperability) a perfect, public, decentralised blockchain solution more than likely will involve what is referred to as “layer 2” solutions that work in conjunction with blockchains to become more efficient.

Existing distribution platforms will not wither and die. But instead, we’ll see parallel railways.

In our vision of the immediate future projects like Winding Tree and Travel Ledger provide an alternate path for distribution development. Existing distribution platforms will not wither and die. But instead, we’ll see parallel railways. Those travel suppliers looking for a means and a mechanism to lower costs and have greater control of their product and data will explore blockchain solutions. Travel suppliers who lack the scale and funds to pursue a genuinely global distribution strategy will turn to blockchain solutions to give their products a global presence in a cost-effective manner. This is where we see tremendous potential. Similarly, travel retailers looking to acquire the best possible deal or service for their customers without “money sticking to the middleman’s fingers” along the way. This is the power of the present state of the blockchain in our mind. Healthy competition amongst distribution platforms will ultimately mean consumers benefit. Existing platforms and the newly arriving blockchain platforms are not mutually exclusive but somewhat concomitant, in egging each other on to be better, more efficient and solve existing and future customer problems.

We feel, with the amount of expectation heaped on blockchain that progress and winners will be decided by combining new technology with practical steps. This thought was reiterated recently by Microsoft who, after 12 months of research concluded that blockchain needs to scale via “off chain” solutions. In the case of their foray into decentralised identities, it seems for now only the user’s ID will be placed on chain with all other data managed in an encrypted “ID Hub”.

Decentralisation is an ideal that we have started to move towards in earnest. Some of the most significant movements coming in the self-sovereign identity spaces with Civic, uPort and others. To move forward, there is also a need to use what is in front of us now. Decentralisation / Blockchain purists may see this as insufficient and choose to wait until everything fits the anti-enterprise ideals that the likes of Google and Facebook are facing. The risk, however, is that the reputation blockchain has for being a game-changing technology loses its shine as limited progress unfolds. For now, to be able to take advantage of the hype we need to show blockchain competing against incumbent / traditional systems at speeds and performance levels that are equivalent. To do that we need to get real about what it’s currently capable of achieving and merge that with other existing solutions. Such integrated “workarounds” we would expect to be replaced over time as the blockchain ecosystem evolves.

In the end, we have the same goal. To challenge intermediaries and systems that charge without adding any real value with a protocol that is consumer-centric. We just may disagree on the best steps to get there.