Blockchain: What is it, and why can’t you ignore it?

By Georgia Ward

The hospitality industry may not yet have seen the implications of blockchain or know how the technology could bring benefits to businesses, but it’s a hot topic that can’t be ignored. Stuart Evans explains what its advantages are and shares some examples of how it’s already being used.

Most articles on blockchain start with a description of what it is and how it works, which may be interesting to the tech-minded but doesn’t necessarily help hospitality professionals looking to understand its capabilities.

Put simply, the advantages of blockchain include:

  • Automatically ‘trusted’ transactions between unrelated parties
  • An immutable, or unchangeable, record of these transactions
  • A single source of truth; i.e. one ledger that is visible to all parties
  • Near instant transactions – as reconciliation and settlement can also happen on-chain
  • The ability to auto-execute business rules on top of chain-held data (aka Smart Contracts)

So, ignoring the underlying technology, these are the ‘benefits’ that hospitality businesses can look to use to improve customer experience, increase operational efficiency and save time and costs, especially where they include multi-party transactions and a lot of paperwork to handle data and value-based records.

I’ve picked out a few examples already in the market, where blockchain is being developed or trialled – although it is only in a few rare cases that it’s being fully-deployed as an operational system.

Slock.it

Now a leading ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT) blockchain business, one of the earliest applications of blockchain was their demonstration on how objects or items could be connected securely and managed remotely. The physical example they ran on the Ethereum blockchain platform was using a ‘private key’, or personal blockchain identity, to unlock a hotel door remotely.

IBM and Mearsk

IBM has developed a shipping tracking and verification mechanic on their preferred blockchain technology, Hyperledger Fabric. The single manifest tracking is held securely on-chain, signed by each party at handover point and visible to all relevant parties in the transaction flow, to validate the shipment and facilitate the relevant payments. A trusted, visible and irrefutable blockchain-based supply chain management for hotels might similarly improve the process and remove a significant operational cost for the industry as a whole.

Loyyal

Loyyal has been developing capabilities for the storage and management of loyalty points and benefits on blockchain between a network of hotel, airline, credit card and car rental partners. The ability to move data and value instantly and securely via blockchain across this network would be a step-change in customer experience, allowing them to collect and use rewards value in the next step of their current journey, i.e. collecting and spending points whilst in the same hotel.

Vchain.tech

A start-up now working with British Airways’ parent company IAG, Vchain.tech is using a number of blockchain elements, combined with artificial intelligence, to create customer data ‘passports’ that comply with the latest regulations and also enable the security checks that airlines, airports, border controls and credit card companies need. In hotels, this could enable the bypassing of required identity checks and the customer being able to go straight to a room not a check-in desk.

Winding Tree

This start-up took an investment from Lufthansa and has been working with the airline and others in the industry to leverage blockchain ability to remove intermediaries from transactions between suppliers and end consumers, even when requiring packaging, bundling and pricing rules. An achievement of this type could see a significant shift away from the power of the current GDS/OTA players for airlines and potentially the hospitality sector.

These examples show the potential impact of blockchain and how it could disrupt existing infrastructures, operations and customer experience. Much like the cut-over from combustion engines to electric cars, the new technology is not without its constraints, but the advantages are also becoming clear. Now it’s just a case of how fast it will happen, starting with ‘hybrid’ blockchain/traditional tech models, before we go ‘full electric’ – and hospitality professionals need to make sure they’re up to speed before it happens.

Author: Stuart Evans

Stuart Evans is the Founder of Wavebreakr – an innovation consultancy helping enterprises with breakthrough thinking and understanding the capabilities of emerging tech start-ups. After a 20-year career in loyalty marketing and strategy he joined the ‘blockchain revolution’ in 2015 and has consulted, designed and deployed blockchain projects in airline, tourism and automotive sectors.

www.wavebreakr.com

 

This article first appeared in Curious, issue one.