Outside Insight: Samantha Radocchia on blockchain’s power to change travel forever

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As an award-winning entrepreneur, technologist, speaker and author, Samantha Radocchia has spent the better part of the past decade exploring emerging technologies such as blockchain.

Radocchia is the co-founder of Chronicled, an enterprise blockchain company focused on the supply chain, and she consults executives, trade associations, governments and investors on emerging technology trends. Her book, Bitcoin Pizza: The No-Bullshit Guide to Blockchain, will be released in August.

With a background in anthropology, she’s particularly interested in observing new technologies in the sociological, cultural and geopolitical contexts and understanding why these technologies are manifesting now and how they’re changing businesses.

In travel, Radocchia believes blockchain (or whatever blockchain is called as it evolves) has the power to fundamentally change how consumers and businesses view the very notion of travel itself. She shares her thoughts with us below.

You’ve called blockchain an inevitability. Can you explain what that means and why?

If you look at the high-level concept of these [technologies], these macro-paradigm shifts that are occurring, I don’t really think of the technology first: I think of the way that we are behaving or the way that we think about doing business or exchanging with people is changing.

We’ve had this historical transformation that started in the industrial revolution where we did business locally, and then we had things like communications or travel or transportation.

All of these technologies evolved, and we quickly became a globalized world. I think as that happened, there were these trust gaps – things became more and more complex, there were more and more middlemen, more parties getting involved.

There’s now sort of this next phase of recognizing that those systems weren’t necessarily – and when I say systems, I mean both the tech as well as the social organization of this all – built for it, because we were relying on third parties for trust.

The whole idea now is that trust was centralized or localized, and we placed it in the local community, and we tried to replicate that. Now we’re going through this other transformation where we’re in this globalized context, thinking about moving from centralized to decentralized approaches to trust or building businesses or exchanging money with people across the world. That also opens up things like new business models and shifting from siloed systems and companies and databases to more organic and open and interconnected.

Blockchain, insofar as it represents the technical manifestation of a lot of these ideas, I think that’s inevitable, whether we call it blockchain or we call it a distributed ledger or it’s just called Internet 3.0 or Web 3.0. I hope it gets to the point where we’re not needing to use the terminology, but the shift is inevitable.

When did this shift start to occur?

I’d say the 2000s. You could just look at the history of the internet and some of the early promises or ideas around what it would provide, things like privacy or our economy. We’ve seen the Googles and the social networks of the world evolve, and then things started happening like database hacks, the Equifax hack or the Facebook hack.

In tandem, the growing economic instability like the 2008 financial crisis, right after that is when the Bitcoin white paper was released. And that wasn’t an accident. The people who had been working on this were anticipating this sort of instability. It was just a growing distrust that happened again as a result of globalization or some of the shortcomings of the internet that had been building.

So again, blockchain, a lot of people I talk to think about it very literally. They’re like, “It’s, you know, this immutable distributed ledger.” And they’re trying to just use it for those things. We’re hopefully entering the second phase of thinking that involves, no, this stuff represents a completely new way of how we design business models or build things in the first place. This has been kind of a growing phenomenon.

How are you seeing this play out in the travel space where: Where do travel brands fit in? Where are they at?

To go with sort of a 1.0 initial thinking – we’ve got this ledger that multiple stakeholders and parties can access. The first area is transparent pricing in the booking space or the airline space. I’ve seen a lot of ecosystems forming around that.

You can look at the next level as kind of wacky types of thinking – accepting that more people are on the go, moving around or maybe even changing the concept that travel. Fundamentally, is it called travel anymore or is it just that people are globally connected? Constantly moving nomads of sort.

There’s this notion of, not even cross-border payments, but just interoperable currencies without the need for exchange rates, and then interoperable loyalty programs. So instead of your hotel and airline and credit card points and then exchanges for that, it’s all kind of moving into a standardized format.

The other stuff I’ve been working on is these models of co-living. This is more on the real estate side, but we saw the evolution of Airbnb becoming one of the biggest hospitality groups in the U.S., and that model is now expanding into this combo of fractional ownership of real estate.

Maybe [the new model] is timeshare 2.0. I’ve been working with some companies to build or think about if you actually own a share of an island or beach resort that you have access to. … [Before], the idea of fractionalizing securities or real estate was way too cumbersome to even think about a business model like that.

Fundamentally, is it called travel anymore or is it just that people are globally connected?

Samantha Radocchia

What excites me about the tech again – and while it’s very important to have the transparent pricing and more efficient operational efficiency and automation – is really what you start to think can happen when you have these entities or data or businesses or whatever that were not before connected, or at least not in an efficient way, unlocking this tremendous, massive data set that on top of you can conceive of and build new business models.

The example I always give is, in the ‘90s we had MapQuest. We thought of digital maps as a better navigation system. And what was interesting about Google Maps is that it wasn’t really meant for a map; it was location data.

What happened from that, the companies that were built on top of it were Uber and Airbnb and Yelp and pretty much any on-demand company that used that map information to build their entire business model.

You could say the on-demand economy, which made up most of the past decade of businesses, came from that simple way of seeing something and opening up location data.

So if a blockchain unlocks not just location data, but everything – I can’t ponder what all of these business models might be, but I can definitely say that it will be as big of a transformation as that was.

Can you talk about some of the companies you’re working with in the co-living space?

I’m working with a very large real estate developer in Thailand, and we’ve been thinking through concepts … like a hybrid social and hospitality network where you’re not just paying, say, a membership to Soho House.

You’re not just paying to be part of a co-living community like Roam, but you’re actually owning fractional pieces of the real estate and participating in the upside and decision making and governance.

Can you explain in basic terms what this idea of fractionalizing means and what that means for a consumer or a business?

Fractional ownership, the high-level thing we’re talking about with a blockchain-based solution for the consumer and businesses, we’re basically restoring a deeper connection or feeling of trust in a trustless system as opposed to trusting some sort of entity.

If you go to a hotel or an Airbnb, you might have loyalty [to the brand] , but it’s not a space that feels your own, and you’re also often isolated, and you’re not connected for whatever reason, whether it’s values or economically to other people.

As we become more globally connected and also connected through social networks, it’s actually growing a distance between people. A lot of interesting solutions, particularly in the blockchain space, are working to restore a lot of those connections.

And it’s not just people and other people – you can look on the supply chain side and say I don’t know where these cosmetics or this vitamin is from. Do I trust that it’s authentic or is it going to harm my hair? Because I’ve given up on trying there’s so many.

Do you think this type of solution could be applied to legacy travel companies? Or is it something that has to sort of be built within a newer company or startup?

For legacy companies, there’s always an ability to use the technology to retrofit their existing systems and be an incremental step towards – and this is one of the buzzwords I don’t like – digital transformation.

[For example], in the travel for events space, people are still sharing data through PDF and spreadsheets over email. I see it as a step in the right direction, to just literally digitize that information and put it on a blockchain network. You don’t have to get fancy.

I think there are other opportunities depending on the company. You know, if you’re a publicly traded company with shareholders and you can’t do crazy things like this, you create a joint venture, a separate company or invest in companies to move the needle as well.

For a lot of these longstanding travel companies, it’s difficult to implement new technologies, particularly at scale. How do you overhaul these legacy systems and move into something like blockchain?

The best way to do that on the enterprise side would be the big companies coming together to collaborate, and that’s not really a part of the way people do business these days.

That’s part of what this technology represents – a new way of doing business, but maybe some areas are more collaborative and you’re not competing in the traditional ways that you did because that data has become commoditized.

An example I give in manufacturing: In Thailand and in Southeast Asia – the way those people think of making money right now is like, I have my factory and I produce X amount of units and I’m making a profit on that.

As we move to on-demand, hyper-localized production, it might not be a factory floor anymore. You might own a fleet of 3-D printers and get that commission on the usage of those. The nature of your business will fundamentally change.

If you’re an airline, maybe the nature of the business itself changes. I’m trying to think of how it would, but I think it needs to because it seems like in the same way manufacturing has gotten pushed to a point where the unit economics just don’t really make sense, the margins are getting smaller and smaller … the airline industry will hit a point where they simply cannot fit more people on airplanes and gas prices might increase and the business models will change.

Even if the legacy systems or ways of doing business seem like a massive undertaking, they’ll have to do it to stay afloat, or incumbents and new companies will come in, and maybe the movement goes to these fractional sorts of jet-shares, who are short-range like Uber Choppers.

I’ve seen a lot of private jet or communally fractionally owned jet-shares become significantly more accessible over the past 10 years.

Do you prefer the term blockchain or distributed ledger?

Blockchain is a distributed ledger, but a distributed ledger isn’t necessarily a blockchain. You could even argue that these enterprise networks that are permissioned networks – like, my previous company launched, if it has permissions and is not fully open, is it a blockchain? Or if it doesn’t use this consensus algorithm, is it?

I believe in linguistic accuracy – I think that’s a good thing – but I also think it is so early to even understand what’s going on that it doesn’t really matter.

I would like to see, in the same way we’re calling it TCP/IP and HTTP and the World Wide Web until the internet became the internet…

It’s too early to tell.

Yeah, it is. If we do hit the vision of blockchain being an inevitability – and by that I mean again the answer is broader changes in the way that we do business – it might not even be the technology of blockchain as in like a chain of blocks or distributed ledger sense.

It might be like an Amazon Quantum Ledger or it might be some other thing. Tech is moving so quickly. Blockchains right now are incredibly inefficient in terms of computing power.

I imagine that we’ll have more advancements to the point that it’s gotten so far away from the original vision as set forth in the Bitcoin white paper that it’s not blockchain anymore. So yeah, maybe it’s better to say distributed ledger.

If we were to look 10 years down the road, where do you think we’ll be at with this technology in travel specifically?

Well, for one, we probably won’t be thinking about that term. We’ll be thinking in terms of the results, the companies, the customer experience of what it’s enabled.

There will probably be names for new kinds of business categories, the way that we have e-commerce or the demand economy.

We have Uber now, which provided the use of underutilized assets. There is talk that it’ll become simply just a reputation companies with all this customer data and scores. It’ll probably be a network managing autonomous vehicles and your rider reputation or the car’s reputation and how it’s making decisions of where to go.

When you think of autonomous vehicles, the vehicles themselves will have their own wallets, and you might not own a car anymore, but you might own a fleet of these vehicles that are out there working for you and providing passive income, and as a customer, you’re riding in them.

I think we see it also with mass transit. I live in New York and we’ve only just started to move into mobile payments for the subway. So all of these systems will be automated, and then even moving through airports – a big area in blockchain is self-sovereign identification.

Global standards around ID, that might be first and foremost. … On the positive side, it’s making the experience of going through borders or security and airports way more seamless.

But you could also – and I’m pretty realistic about this stuff and try not to go down the dystopian Black Mirror angle – but there is a point where we have more and more of this information, we’re automating more and more of that, and we could go too far.

Outside Insight

PhocusWire talks to technology leaders and visionaries from the wider digital world.