Highlights from the GBTA Panel on blockchain for the travel industry

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Kayak from above with 4 rowing people. Blue and aqua water background. Sport and moving concept. Red kayak and 8 paddles.

This year, the GBTA Convention in San Diego hosted an education session exploring how blockchain may disrupt the travel industry. On the panel were two blockchain experts, Shruthi Rao, CBO and co-founder of Vendia and founder of AWS Blockchain, and Johnny Thorsen, VP Strategy and Partnerships at Spotnana.

Moderator, Scott Wayne, helped ask the tough questions to suss out what’s hype and what’s real about the technology, describing himself as “a little bit of a skeptic.”


What is the difference between crypto and blockchain?

Scott’s first question focused on the difference between crypto and blockchain, a question Shruthi Rao jumped on with a sense of pragmatism.

“Crypto is a means to an end, and blockchain is a technology”, said Shruthi, who continued to explain that crypto is similar to other assets such as forex or stocks, “they store value because we have agreed they have value and they allow you to trade that value.”

Rao continued to explain that blockchain (also known as Distributed Ledger Technology or “DLT”) on the other hand is a technology that “has many use cases, many functionalities, and can create business value.” As Rao put it, “not all blockchain is crypto, but all crypto has some sort of blockchain as the backbone of it.”

**What are some real use cases for blockchain in the travel industry? **

Scott Wayne continued with a focus on real use cases for blockchain, looking for examples of projects happening “right now”.

Rao pointed out how the travel industry is particularly well equipped for adopting blockchain.

“The travel industry has alliances, like no other industry.” Rao continued to give an example of how a single flight requires participation from a multitude of partners who work together to bring a passenger from A to B.

Shruthi shared how one of Vendia’s partners, a major airline, is looking to share data with other partners. The challenge is that every partner has a different technical setup so the data is currently shared manually for somewhere between 50 to 60 million tickets per year. With the help of Vendia, these partners can now share CRM data in real time using smart contracts to automate the workflow and ensuring each partner can only access and see the data they need, no more, no less.

Is the travel industry behind on blockchain?

Johnny Thorsen thought the travel industry was behind on setting certain standards for the use of blockchain. “The shipping industry has agreed to track every container worldwide” said Thorsen, who thought the travel industry needed to create some standards as well.

In terms of adopting the technology, Rao did not think the industry was behind calling out that Vendia is talking to a double digit number of airlines. “The industry is not behind, but the industry is allergic to the B word (blockchain)”, said Rao.

Shruthi pointed out that multi-party data sharing is well established and if you can say ”yes” to three things:

  1. Do you have a lot of partners you work with?
  2. Are you already sharing some data with them (and do you want to share it with control) ?
  3. Is it important for your partners to have a single version of the truth?

“Then you need an automatic mechanism to manage that data sharing, one that scales and protects your data. You need multi-party data sharing with control.”

What is the biggest risk?

Scott pointed out that this is a cautious industry and wanted to know what the biggest risks of blockchain was.

Thorsen called out the mistake of not having a well defined problem you are looking to solve. “Once you have that, you need to think about how you can solve it.” said Johnny Thorsen.

Johnny also mentioned the fact that the industry is still using a 40 year old ticketing system “How come no one has thought, should we modernize it?”

How do we bring blockchain into the travel industry?

Scott looked to Shruthi for the answer to this question, who highlighted that the most important aspect of new technology is that it is accessible.

“When we built Vendia, we made sure to build a solution that our customers could use right away,” said Shruthi.

Johnny Thorsen encouraged industry members and attendees to pick a problem and start addressing it, “We share the same data in the industry over and over and over. Why not do this smarter?”

How to watch the entire talk

You can watch the recorded panel if you sign up for the Convention+ pass at GBTA.org. Look for the session called: “The Building Block(chain)s of Crypto Travel: Fact or Fiction” from Monday, August 15, 2022, 11am Pacific Time

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