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Blockchain, the technology that supports Bitcoin – a digital currency that’s traded for goods and services – has revolutionized the finance sector. Thirty of the world’s largest banks are collectively building blockchain solutions and the technology has powered millions of users. Blockchain could also have ramifications for the travel industry, too. As well as providing a simplified, secure payment platform for airlines, hotels, and rental portals, the technology could transform the future of digital identity management.
Blockchain is a shared public ledger underlying the Bitcoin network. Transactions are chained together in blocks and then encrypted, which makes it difficult for hackers to access sensitive information. These chains create a permanent record of payments, providing buyers and sellers with a heap of benefits. As blockchains exist forever and can’t be removed, they provide an accurate, long-term record of a person’s transaction history, as well as other data such as credentials and reputation.
Blockchain technology is used by some of the world’s biggest brands. Two parties can exchange payment information without counterparty risk, reduce the transaction fees often associated with payment transfer, and process transactions 24 hours a day.
In a vacation rental context, blockchain lets guests check the authenticity of a host, and vice versa. Unlike social media platforms, where negative information can be deleted, blockchain maintains a permanent record of a guest’s or host’s identity, managing risk and facilitating safety. While no vacation rental company has implemented the technology just yet, expect big changes in the near future. In April, Airbnb hired the bulk of staff at ChangeCoin, a bitcoin-based startup that lets users send tips over social networks, suggesting a shift toward blockchain could soon be on the cards.
Blockchain is still in its primitive stage but it could become mainstream in the travel industry in the next few years. The technology could streamline payments and settlements, saving travel companies billions of dollars a year.
Blockchain is also making waves in the short term rental industry. In March, Nathan Blecharczyk, one of Airbnb’s founders, suggested that the rental portal is interested in blockchain solutions that boost user trust. The San Francisco-based company already requires that users verify their identification with a driver’s license or passport, but blockchain could take security to the next level. The technology’s open ledger system can collect permanent records of payments and user data and maintain digital identities that reduce phishing attacks and other security risks.
How Airbnb plans to use blockchain remains to be seen. The company might use the technology to share user profiles with other companies, especially those who adopt sharing economy models. As Airbnb profiles aggregate reviews and rankings from hosts and guests, this data could prove beneficial for brands that want to establish a person’s trustworthiness.
Just like a credit file, companies could check the reputation of users when they access services. In particular, third-parties could determine whether an Airbnb guest paid on time or a host provided a five-star service. While this model might raise privacy concerns – Airbnb might need to change its terms of service to reflect these changes – and prove to be an ethical minefield, especially when not all reviews are honest, information sharing on this scale could transform the digital landscape.
Blockchain is a growing technology that could change the travel industry in the coming years. Vacation portals like Airbnb could share user information with third parties to establish permanent digital records of guests and hosts. Individuals could then check these virtual profiles to establish the authenticity of other users.
By Michelle Giuliano
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