Blockchain may be confusing, but tech experts say it could become an integral part of travel. Andrew Doherty learned more about the benefits for agents at TTI’s Summer Forum.
The Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) held a forum at the Strand Palace hotel in London with a specific focus on blockchain, assembling a team of experts to explain the technology and share case studies on how it is being applied in the industry.
Audience members included representatives from Advantage Travel Partnership, travel tech incubator community the Traveltech Lab, and dnata. Kicking off proceedings was Marcus de Wilde, enterprise business development manager at Applied Blockchain – an organisation based at London’s Canary Wharf that uses blockchain technology to build real-world solutions for companies including Vodafone, Shell and Toyota.
Outlining the core functionality of blockchain, de Wilde said the platform was made up of a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block contains a “hash” that takes input data and creates output data to create a “digital fingerprint” between one and the other.
“Everyone has a record of every transaction made, so you don’t have to rely on trusting an intermediary. With blockchain, everything is everywhere – there is no central control. All transactions are visible to all parties and easily verifiable,” de Wilde explained.
Alongside data being tamper-proof, de Wilde said users of the technology can track transactions and easily keep a record of them.
“Cutting out the middle man essentially means you don’t have to pay them,” he added.
Roberto Da Re, founder of Dolphin Dynamics and blockchain platform Travel Ledger also addressed the audience. Da Re began working exclusively on Travel Ledger in October 2017.
He said Travel Ledger would allow all billing records between buyers and sellers of travel products to be stored and shared in a decentralised ledger with support for recording and settling of payments in a secure and transparent manner.
“Agents will get a single statement from all their suppliers instead of having 60 different statements that they will have to put in manually,” Da Re explained. “This means they can shorten the time it takes to reconcile, so if there is a problem, they’ll know right away instead of a few weeks later.”
The initial release will focus on delivering the statement from the seller to the buyer, with subsequent releases focusing on automating payments so funds won’t have to go through a third party.
Da Re said that incorporating the technology into travel agencies’ back-office systems would be “effortless”.
“Agents will not need to do anything because their travel technology supplier will do it for them. The idea is the next time they get a technology release, they will have the option to download Travel Ledger. They can also check which travel suppliers are using Travel Ledger. The agents’ process will not actually change, but instead of putting invoices manually into their back-office system, Travel Ledger will automate it.”
The project is being built on Ethereum – a decentralised digital platform that runs applications without the possibility of censorship, fraud or third-party interference.
“It is the most proven and tested platform with the most developers working on it. Are we married to it for ever-more? No. It’s an area that is changing very quickly, so we’ve agreed to keep the agreement as abstract as possible so that if we decided, we could move to another platform.” And when can agents start using Travel Ledger? Da Re hopes to see a beta version of the technology available by the end of the year.
“Obviously, there is going to be a slow adoption initially as suppliers come onboard,” he said. “It’s the suppliers that will start publishing the invoices. We are talking to a couple of large companies that will start using it early on and hopefully encourage others to get onboard.”