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Blockchain, the disruptive technology behind digital currency such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and other cryptocurrencies — and essentially a ‘decentralized’ platform for information and value exchange — has the potential to completely overhaul every aspect of the travel industry. This includes distribution, payments, data security, and data infrastructure across airlines, hotels, car hire, alternative accommodations, and others.
SkiftX spoke with Amber Treshnell, CEO, Americas, of concierge services provider John Paul, about how blockchain could radically change the travel and hospitality landscape and how John Paul is preparing for the shifts to come.
SkiftX: Where do you stand on blockchain’s potential to disrupt the hospitality industry?
Amber Treshnell: I think that the hospitality industry will greatly benefit from blockchain. Currently, the hospitality industry, and travel in general, is extremely segmented between a multitude of travel providers, online travel agencies, suppliers, operators, payment processes, currencies, and so on. Blockchain will allow travel products, payments, and settlements to be managed in a much cleaner, more automatic way so they can be bundled and packaged together.
Blockchain will especially shift the way we look at loyalty and points programs. It will help alleviate friction and fragmentation among loyalty programs and help give customer points more value. Customer identification, trust, and security will be also be strengthened by blockchain by giving customers a more assured, trustworthy experience without the need of a middleman.
SkiftX: What do you think are the strongest possible use cases for blockchain in the travel industry?
Treshnell: Blockchain will upend the total travel experience. The biggest problem in travel is that transactions can be time-consuming and complicated. A travel agent might book a flight with three different legs on one airline and then another flight with three different legs on a different airline, as well as a number of hotels and activities for the same trip. Bringing that all together under one bucket can be time consuming or difficult. Blockchain will not only make payment processing and customer identification much smoother, but it will save time, money, and establish trust between two or more people or entities, without the need for anyone else to vouch for them.
SkiftX: Why do you think blockchain is a potential game changer for John Paul?
Treshnell: Blockchain is about the customer experience and verifying trust –– two things that John Paul has always focused on. As a leader in brand hospitality and concierge services, John Paul connects brands with their clients, and companies with their employees. On a regular day, the company might help a customer propose to his fiancée, help someone find a special gift for a loved one, or help organize a trip to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. Our ethos guarantees impeccable service and a quest for excellence at all times. The fact that we’re so involved in the business of trust goes hand-in-hand with the potential shifts blockchain can bring about.
SkiftX: What should companies in the hospitality industry do to prepare for the potential shifts blockchain will bring their business?
Treshnell: The first step is to take the time to learn about how it can help your business. Don’t overlook the importance of educating yourself. Also, be open to collaborating with other companies. Your business may have expertise in one area, but typically a business can’t have expertise in everything. For example, John Paul excels when it comes to how we think about mobile, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies. We are flexible and nimble due to our size but we have the luxury of benefiting from collaboration with a larger company. In our case this is our parent company AccorHotels, which is one step ahead thanks to the know-how, talents, and cutting-edge technologies gained through its growth and acquisition strategies.
SkiftX: What are you doing personally at John Paul to prepare?
Treshnell: We’re constantly assessing the needs of our customers and clients. We differentiate ourselves by showing them how we can integrate new technologies, whether that’s blockchain, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. We’re educating our customers and getting them excited about what’s to come, especially on our mobile app. This way they’re fully prepared to get on board when we launch new tools and programs. Not all use cases for this potentially disruptive technology have come to light as yet, therefore we need to keep our ears to the ground. We’re constantly looking for new innovations that may appear on the market which could be potential acquisition targets, equity investment, or partnership opportunities.
SkiftX: If blockchain does reach a tipping point in terms of adoption, who do you think has the most to gain in the hospitality industry? Who has the most to lose?
Treshnell: The winners will be the companies that really embrace it and make being at the forefront of innovation a priority. The companies that already understand the importance of personalization and work to enhance experiences for their customers, guests, and members already have an advantage. The companies that say that blockchain is just a fad or is overhyped are the ones that could potentially be left behind.