Kristian Gjerding is the founder and CEO of CellPoint Mobile, a technology platform that provides mobile-first commerce and payment solutions for global airlines and travel companies. He also leads Travel Innovation Hub, a project that explores and fast-tracks the application of blockchain technology for key travel-related business services and transactions.
Your company, CellPoint Mobile, is promoting a collaborative Innovation Hub with the mission to explore the potential of blockchain applied to the travel industry. What are the main possibilities that this technology offers to the travel industry?
The travel industry presents a few ideal opportunities for blockchain processes, especially around things like unified passenger IDs, security, mobile payments, and loyalty program fraud prevention. Many common travel transactions – passing through security with multiple paper IDs or documents, paying or redeeming points from a smartphone – hold the potential to be much more aligned and secure if components like data and identity verification and authentication are built in and seamlessly integrated. Imagine a blockchain-supported passenger ID, for example, based on verification of information from driver’s licenses, passports, visas, business documents, loyalty program memberships, stored payment data, etc. Using one accepted, all-purpose passenger ID – rather than a variety of disparate documents that often contain the same information – could ideally speed up many of those common travel transactions and interactions without compromising security or data.
Are you already working with any technology solution based on blockchain? If not, which ones do you consider that will come first?
Several initiatives already are under way, including the conceptualization of a One Identity project by the International AirTransport Association (IATA) as part of its Simplifying the Business initiative. IATA’s visión is “to achieve a transformed door-to-door experience that moves from fragmented steps to one harmonized and integrated process, allowing the passenger to walk seamlessly throughout the airport without breaking stride.” It’s certainly aspirational, but a process like blockchain certainly could play a role in pre-verifying and connecting data at the various touch points involved in travel, with a goal of reducing or eliminating some of the repetitive uses of the same information during different phases of travel.
Who are the main players driving the blockchain-related innovation? Is the travel industry lagging behind more technified industries?
Certainly most of the blockchain innovation is coming from the financial sector, but its relative success with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies is now turning heads and inspiring innovation elsewhere – logistics and supply chain management, investing, contracting, real estate, law, and the travel industry, among others. My company specializes in mobile payment solutions, and what seems to happen with these types of new technologies is that the innovation is driven by third-party or external players – start-ups, think tanks, technology experts, programmers, developers, smartphone manufacturers, entrepreneurs and the like. At some point, when the innovation finds its way into more traditional business operations or consumer-facing transactions, traditional businesses have to find ways to either innovate at scale on their own – which is complex, costly and time-consuming – or ride the innovation waves through partnerships, joint ventures, and integration agreements.
Some industries, like insurance or finance, can operate private blockchains, which can be understood as corporative initiatives. But in the case of travel, a lot of international players are involved. Is that a serious barrier for the adoption of blockchain in travel?
It’s not a serious barrier, but it’s definitely a challenge, mostly because of who the players are and because travel is such a global enterprise. Travel involves airlines and rail transport systems, airports and terminals, government agencies and security contractors – all of whom must work together for a blockchain-supported project to work. The complexity increases when you factor in different regional and international legal requirements, customs laws, and paperwork/data formats. For those barriers to fall, integration and cooperation have to be built in from the start, and traditional ways of “doing” certain parts of the travel experience will have to be re-imagined.
Air travel will probably be very different in five years. What will be the role of technology in this transformation? Will we see a cashless, paper-free traveler? Will physical identity documents (like passports) disappear?
We’re already seeing a very different travel experience from five years ago, much of it now driven by the smartphone. Nearly every traveler today has one, and a mobile device is often an airline passenger’s sole connection to the world – and to payments, retailing, communications, etc. – as they travel. Just as swiping an iPhone to board a plane is now commonplace, other technology-supported interactions and transactions will continue to transform travel because of mobile devices and technology. Travelers will carry less cash, fewer plastic credit/debit cards, and fewer actual paper documents for identification. They will rely instead on pre-stored payment data, digital wallets, and mobile-supported or technology-supported identities. The entire process of finding, choosing, booking, and payment for a trip will eventually shift seamlessly and without interruption from mobile device to laptop to wearable and back, especially if airlines follow the example of retailers and begin leveraging all available passenger data across all touchpoints to create a 360-degree view of the journey. Some countries (India and Denmark for example) are already pursuing “cashless economies,” but like all things visionary, change takes time.
For more about blockchain, read the study “Blockchain: building trust” from Rebel Thinking.