Over the past twenty years, the internet has transformed the travel industry through disintermediation and reintermediation, all the while granting travelers greater control and choice.
Blockchain's ability to decentralize services, accelerate transactions, improve transparency, and eliminate middlemen to reduce costs heralds the next wave of transformation in the sector. Blockchains are assembled in such a way that data cannot be manipulated and are stored in a peer-to-peer network, which is a major asset for companies adopting this technology.
Winding Tree uses blockchain to connect travelers directly with airlines, hotels and other service providers – minimizing associated fees. It effectively wants to create an open source blockchain with its own token that supports a decentralized travel industry, taking the likes of Airbnb and Skyscanner out of the picture in their current forms.
The noise around the growth of blockchain technology has already had an impact on the strategies of the larger players in this space. For example, Microsoft and Webjet are working together using a privatized version of Ethereum, and have built a hotel inventory tracking system and payment solution that could revolutionize current methods.
Blockchain technology presents alternative business opportunities which have attracted the attention of potential investors, and one new company that stands out is Cool Cousin. In the tourism and travel industry, where the authenticity of recommendations on larger sites is often questioned (TripAdvisor's algorithms, for example, have been manipulated in the past), Cool Cousin brings together users to provide personalized travel recommendations and rewards them using blockchain through `CUZ' tokens. As per their website, "travelers get on-demand city guidance that matches their style and needs, directly from like-minded locals" who are incentivized transparently for their authentic advice. Cool Cousin raised $2m in a seed funding round in 2017 led by Elevator Fund.
Travel and tourism has arguably been the consumer sector most affected by technology changes. This appears likely to continue as emergent technologies such as blockchain are appropriated by businesses who are then able to cut out the middlemen and offer greater value and customization.