We all love traveling and creating lifelong memories. However, before we get to our destination, there’s a typical mix of excitement and anxiety associated with the trip—from booking tickets, to waiting at immigration to process your documentation, to renting a car and checking in at the hotel.

One way to cut down on that stress is by electronically sharing your travel documents in advance, with the immigration authorities and other concerned stakeholders, to expedite clearance. This digital identity can enable seamless entry at the airport and allow you to travel to any country using a pre-approved and entirely digitized passport. This can reduce time spent at passport control from an average of four minutes to just a few seconds.

Blockchain can help a traveler be pre-screened at a hotel as well. Instead of the physical identity verification typically done at the front desk, the guest can quickly enter their assigned room and enjoy the comfort and experience that lies ahead.

What if travelers could be the stewards of their own secure identities and decide when, where, with whom and which part of the information they would share?

Smoother travel through blockchain

Blockchain technology can bring to life the scenario discussed above by delivering a seamless customer experience at speed, along with secure collaboration and transparency across the multitude of stakeholders involved in travel.

Blockchain—an open, distributed ledger—can record transactions between multiple parties efficiently, in a verifiable way with records, or blocks, linked and secured cryptographically. On any blockchain-style network, every transaction is signed to notify all stakeholders and keeps track of the transaction trail. Such a network can securely handle multi-party transactions with enhanced reconciliation and enable data sharing, making it a favorable solution for the travel industry.

Blockchain used for travel is the vision of the Known Traveler Digital Identity (KTDI) concept initiated by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Accenture and WEF collaborated on the research and helped create the prototype that was revealed at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Davos.  This prototype demonstrated that such a system could be realized using biometrics, blockchain and digital technologies and working across a variety of trusted partners including governments, airports, airlines and hotels.

Building a seamless ecosystem

Hotels and airlines are constantly looking for solutions which offer seamless and simplified travel experiences. However, most of those systems are not well integrated with their partner services. These partners collect, store and process guest information at multiple points during the traveler journey, forming a disjointed network.

Despite every stakeholder collecting and consuming some of the traveler information, they only manage to achieve a siloed understanding of a traveler’s experiences, declared preferences and implicit needs. This fragmented business landscape may result in delays or issues in services or missed opportunities to delight travelers. Such disruptions may have impact on the brand's image, customer loyalty, revenue and overall traveler experience.

According to Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse research, more than half (53 percent) of customers in mature markets switched away from at least one of their providers and poor experiences are one of the main reasons customers leave, and 61 percent of customers globally switched companies due to poor service in 2017.

Ecosystems can help connect the fragmented business landscape in travel, thereby improving travel experiences. World Economic Forum states that platform ecosystems are the foundation for new value creation and 50 percent of the large enterprises are creating and/or partnering with industry platforms in 2018.

Evolving, expanding and expediting loyalty programs   

Blockchain shows immense promise for loyalty programs in that it provides a transparent, secure, verifiable and well-managed distributed digital ledger.

If an airline, cruise line or a hotel and its partners want to use a blockchain based network to authenticate member information, transfer loyalty points or track assets between participants, they must answer two key questions: 1. Who owns the chain in an ecosystem? 2. Who does what in operating the ecosystem? The answer to both is that it depends.

The ownership may lie with a service provider managed consortium with member agreements where the service providers are entrusted with optimizing a service catalogue and service levels for members. In a different agreement, the ownership may be with a founder managed consortium, where the founder creates agreements with the other members of the ecosystem directly and retains control on the operations. 

Cathay Pacific Group is using blockchain technology in its 'Asia Miles' marketing campaign, which uses the technology to provide Asia Miles partners a single data source when managing account activity. Partners and members can manage rewards in real time, and the program is improving member experience with blockchain technology through gamified miles earning and faster miles crediting. 

Standalone loyalty programs can significantly impact a company’s financial standing, where unclaimed reward points create a financial liability to a company’s balance sheet, and more of a loss if it fails to convert a traveler experience into future business opportunities. A good partner ecosystem can provide a broader set of options to the traveler to keep the engagement and economy moving.

Ensuring authentic traveler experience with verifiable supply chain

In a recent article, Forbes highlighted the spread of counterfeits ranging from food products, luxury goods, electronics, art, wines and collectibles. Incidentally, all of these are heavily embedded into the travel lifecycle. Another report from International Chamber of Commerce predicts the negative impacts of counterfeiting and piracy to reach US$4.2 trillion globally by 2022.

Especially as there is greater focus on authenticity and source of goods, today’s travel ecosystem needs a smart, integrated, secure and transparent solution— with seamless handshakes across parties via smart contracts, global interoperability and operational efficiency. This type of solution would result in authentic goods procurement and enhanced customer experience. A private permissioned blockchain network between the travel brand owner, franchisees, suppliers, distributors, importers, exporters and manufacturers can ensure transparency and visibility into the life cycle of the supplies.

Securing traveler data with privacy control

Behind every airline, hotel and taxi service is a hyper-connected world where data changes multiple hands to ensure the travel ecosystem runs smoothly and helps travelers have a memorable experience.

So what happens to all the traveler data? Who owns it? And in the world of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), can the travel players in the ecosystem fulfill a customer’s request for their right to be forgotten? At this point, it may not be all of them!

In the UK according to RealWire, 43 percent of consumers said they wanted companies that don’t follow data protection rules to pay more significant fines. According to TrustArc, only 20 percent of companies surveyed believed they are GDPR compliant post the May 2018 deadline, but 93 percent expected to be fully compliant by the end of 2019.

Multiple partners in this traveler ecosystem must ensure the right balance between transparency, security, simplicity and regulatory compliance.

Next-gen frictionless travel in the age of blockchain

With many of these capabilities native to the blockchain, its adoption in a fit-to-purpose form can unlock new opportunities for the travel industry. The more travel businesses embrace technology that enables trust, the more it will lead to larger decentralized networks and consortiums. Eventually, blockchain will help create innovative business solutions to enrich guest experiences and boost business performance.

Anshul Gupta

Associate Director – Accenture Technology

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