More concept than concrete. That’s blockchain’s place right now in the world and in travel. Here, though, are three companies bringing blockchain to life in the travel industry.
STEP’s Plan to Put Hotels on the Blockchain
Blockchain may be an industry buzzword, but STEP—Simple Travel Ecosystem Protocol—is trying to move beyond the buzz to get the hotel industry comfortable with blockchain.
Founder and CEO David Brillembourg spent more than a decade buying and structuring hotel deals through private equity and working in tech before that. He said moving hotel rooms to the blockchain would address major pain points among hotel owners around high distribution costs from third-party sales and perishability of inventory. It also would offer a new way for customers to purchase rooms.
Working with hotel owners, STEP would tokenize hotel inventory, making a single room worth one coin. Coins then could be purchased by an individual and used directly with the hotel, bypassing online travel agencies and the 20 percent commissions they collect from hotels. Or a corporate or other volume buyer could buy a chunk of rooms and establish a smart contract. “A company could come in and say, ‘OK, your inventory is tokenized and I want to buy the tokens from you and I just want a smart contract that I’m locking this amount of rooms. I’m going to buy this amount of tokens that are backed by this amount of reservations and I’m going to use them however I want, whenever I want,” Brillembourg said. “The more you buy, the more discounts you get.”
He said the best way to think of STEP in its current stage would be as an additional sales channel, one that charges only a 2.5 percent commission to hotels, similar to a payment provider. “We’re industry-friendly disruptors,” he said.
For hoteliers skeptical about blockchain, Brillembourg is launching a proof-of-concept property in San Juan under his new Loop Hotels brand. Hoteliers can see how STEP works at this blockchain-driven property or can adopt the Loop brand as a turnkey solution. Brillembourg will own the San Juan property and expects to open it in September.
HRS Brings Traveler Profiles & ID Verification to the Blockchain
The May 25 deadline for Global Data Protection Regulation may have loomed heavy for some global firms, but hotel solutions company HRS saw an opportunity to use blockchain to address data protection in the hotel industry.
HRS VP of product Martin Biermann said the company always has complied with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard in handling traveler payment cards and passed along sensitive data, such as passport information, securely. But GDPR requires that companies be able to tell travelers what data they’ve shared with which hotels and be able to delete that data. Thus, the tradition of suppliers simply trusting hotels to remove traveler information from their systems no longer cuts it.
Enter blockchain. HRS creates traveler profiles and stores them on blockchain’s transparent, distributed ledger, which hotels share. Biermann said that enables HRS to show corporates and individual travelers what HRS has shared and whether a hotel has deleted the profile from its own system. “Based on that, we can provide auditing capabilities to the company and say, ‘Ninety percent of your hotels have deleted the information properly on time, and 10 percent we’re working with after to make sure this is happening,’” Biermann said. The capability is useful especially for some properties in China and other markets where a travel manager would have no clue how to make sure a hotel had deleted a traveler’s data.”
HRS also is looking to blockchain to crack down on fraud. With client Siemens, it has built a blockchain-based unique authentication code for travelers to verify their identities at check-in. The project addresses a growing problem in which scammers buy forged corporate IDs on websites like Taobao and use them at check-in to obtain corporate negotiated rates.
Down the road, as HRS moves to put traveler profiles on blockchain, it hopes to allow users to keep their secure traveler profiles as they change companies. “You want to take your information with you,” Biermann said. “You don’t want your old employer to keep your traveler profile forever.”
Winding Tree Is Designing Its Distribution Platform
Since Winding Tree closed its initial coin offering on Feb. 25, raising $14.2 million and 15,239 Ethereum tokens, the blockchain-based distribution startup has been building its platform. Winding Tree co-founder and Web developer Augusto Lemble wrote in a July 30 blog post that the company’s “most significant milestone” in the second quarter was developing the index, the “central piece” of the platform.
The index is a smart contract that lists Uniform Resource Identifiers that provide hotel information, availability and pricing. Winding Tree reviewed existing industry data formats, including application programming interfaces, to create its first version of the data structures. The company is working on defining amenities, incorporating restrictions that companies may have and globalizing the product so it’s available in more languages and geographies.
This month, Winding Tree will release Crypto Bookings, allowing users to book inventory, via blockchain, from a single hotel in Berlin. It will merge with the Winding Tree Network prototype that’s launching in the third quarter. “We built a very basic booking engine that sources inventory from the supply the hotel uploads,” said chief information officer Dave Montali.