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Blockchain: A Technology Looking For An Application

Thomas Rowland

In the dynamic realm of technology, few innovations have sparked as much interest and debate as blockchain: conceived in 2008 by the enigmatic (and possibly fictitious) Satoshi Nakamoto as the underlying technology for Bitcoin.

Today blockchain technologies have proliferated to be found in applications ranging from certifying renewable energy to providing rewards in a revolutionary decentralised wireless network called ‘Helium’. But the question remains: is blockchain a game-changing technology which is yet to find its defining purpose or a solution to a problem which has already been solved by existing (and well-understood) technologies?

Looking to the travel sector, a plethora of potential applications suggest themselves. With its origins in the creation of cryptocurrencies and the inherently cross-border nature of the travel industry, it’s easy to see how the adoption of crypto payments could reduce costs and streamline processes within the industry.

However, with the volatility that is traditionally associated with crypto and the scandals around the collapse of the FTX exchange, the jailing of its founder Sam Bankman-Fried and ongoing legal action against Binance, Coinbase and other platforms, it’s hard to see any short-term future here.

For me, the most exciting potential lies in the advent of ‘Smart Contracts’ and the potential they have to upend the way the industry does business. For those who aren’t familiar, a smart contract is a way of pre-programming the terms and outcomes of an agreement and allowing them to automatically execute when fulfilled. Areas like e-tickets, loyalty schemes and even partnership agreements could be made more transparent and efficient under such a system.

However, to return to my original question, is the industry ready for this type of change? And more to the point, are these questions that need to be answered or is this a case of technology for technology’s sake? The one thing we can be certain of is that we haven’t heard the last of either cryptocurrencies or the blockchain technology on which they’re based.

As of January 2024, the total market capitalisation of all cryptocurrencies globally stood at over $1.8 trillion and venture capital firms had invested $10.7 billion in crypto and blockchain start-ups in 2023 alone. With that kind of money circulating and being invested, it seems almost inevitable that the adoption of these technologies will be part of all our futures. The only question is, how?