Revolut Offers Pay-per-day Geolocation-enabled Travel Insurance

Urgh. Travel insurance. Possibly the most mundane but necessary part of planning any trip. But plenty of travellers still don’t even bother. Is that because they truly don’t see it as important? More likely is that they are frustrated with how complicated the process is and weary of completing any purchase that takes more than 30 minutes.

So what’s the solution? Clearly, travel insurance needs to get with the times and become smarter. But disruption rarely comes from within the industry. In this case it looks like an external company, Revolut, is set to revolutionise the way we think about travel insurance.

We’ve come across Revolut in the past. The disruptive FinTech company is already changing the travel experience with seamless currency conversions and fee-free money exchanges. You can read more about that here.

Location-based travel insurance from Revolut

Earlier this month the Revolut team introduced something completely different to the market: pay-per-day travel insurance enabled by users’ smartphone location services. In simpler terms, travel insurance plans you can buy that will only kick in when your phone registers you as abroad.

The idea is that the insurance plan is simple to use and inexpensive. With the tap of a button, the service will be set to kick in whenever you are abroad. Coverage includes medical and dental, and there are additional options to add flexibility for adventurous travellers seeking cover for winter sports or their companions.

The plan, just like the rest of Revolut’s services can be turned on and off from the traveller’s phone through the Revolut application. When in use, it will rely on the phone’s location services to calculate the cost of insurance. The price will start from less than £1 per day.

But the cost per day will vary depending on location. Some places are more dangerous than others, after all. But Revolut has said that Europe’s base rate will start at £0.99, stepping up to £1.50 for North America and £1.25 for the rest of the world. More good news for Revlut customers: There will be a cap on the costs for the year, along with the flexibility to choose to pay a fixed sum for a standard annual travel policy.

Revolut partners with Thomas Cook Money for Pay-per-day insurance

All of Revolut’s new insurance policies will be underwritten in partnership with Thomas Cook Money. The London-based Fintech startup has said that their average customer spends 13 days every year on vacation. To insure this under Revolut’s plan would cost roughly £11.76 a year – a significant reduction compared to plenty of established insurance providers.

Nikolay Storonsky, CEO and Founder of Revolut, has said that the new insurance feature is a world first.

…”Pay-per-Day travel insurance which leverages the power of your phone to save you money. We wanted to create a type of insurance that uses technology to help our customers and only cover you on the days you actually needed to be covered – all for the best price. Pay-per-Day travel insurance is a global first, and is another step in our journey to build a platform to offer a better kind of banking.”

Anth Mooney, CEO of Thomas Cook Money, the company backing the insurance scheme, stated that partnering with Fintech innovators like Revolut is a key part of the company’s strategy.

“We want to help more people have better holidays by making sure everything to do with their holiday money is looked after at every step,” he said. “And improving the experience of buying travel insurance is an important part of that. You need strong alliances to start a revolution, and Revolut are making great strides in disrupting the traditional finance industry – we’re proud to be a partner and friend to Revolut, who share our simple vision of making things much better for customers.”

Despite still being a company in its infancy, Revolut has continued to roll out a number of features to benefit travellers in recent months. Among those services is a cash card that can be topped up and used abroad, currency exchange at inter-bank rates, official UK bank accounts and, most recently, the ability to buy and trade cryptocurrencies through the Revolut platform.

 

 

Travel and Technology Come Together Again

If there’s one thing we understand, it’s the potential that technology has to change the way we think about travel. And that counts for every part of the journey. Research, booking, arranging insurance, exchanging foreign currencies – all the things you do before you even set foot abroad can be transformed for the better. And that’s before we get to the actual travelling part.

marketplace software

As a startup enabler and supplier of travel marketplace software, our focus is mainly on everything in the lead up to the booking. The priority is to make that process as informative, seamless and rewarding as possible – for operators and their customers. If it goes well, everybody wins. If it goes really well, everybody wins in the long term.

That’s because what we’ve found with our first marketplace in Iceland, is that focusing on those initial stages of the travel journey can improve the whole experience for travellers. Here’s how.

Before any decision is made on a booking, travellers will conduct research, look for inspiration and read around about a place, a particular operator or different types of excursion. Travelshift software acts as a one-stop-shop for all of that, not just a place to finalise bookings. That’s because our marketplaces are community-driven. They are fueled by passionate locals, travel operators and fellow travellers all sharing their stories, experience and expertise.

From a technical perspective this is an SEO dream. More relevant content from relevant parties is always a winner in the eyes of search engines. From a practical perspective, it means that travellers making bookings through Travelshift platforms are better informed, better connected to operators and much more likely to have a positive experience as a result.

You can see how this all feeds back into fueling the platform even more. It’s a virtuous circle. First, travellers research on the platform and search for inspiration, connecting with locals and finding out more about their potential booking. Then they book and have a more memorable experience because all the information was right at their fingertips during the process. Once they get home, they feedback into the system, perhaps with their own content, review or blog post. The network effect creates an even more valuable source of knowledge every time a traveller goes through the process.

Sound like a platform you could harness? Perhaps you already have a travel niche in mind. Get in touch with us today to get the ball rolling.

The Growing Influence of Voice Tech in the Travel Industry

Every once in a while a technology or format comes along that forces the travel industry to think again. The introduction of the internet and online commerce was one. Then came the dominance of search engines and the importance of SEO, combined with the rise of travellers searching, organising and booking through mobile devices.

Now it looks as though a new medium is slowly beginning to enter the industry: Voice search and voice tech in general. But is it really any different to typing a query into search engines like many of us do on a daily basis? And can voice functions come to our rescue when we need them? Today we’re going to explore the topic and see what influence, if any, the changing way that we search for information could have on the industry of travel.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here. 

First up, let’s clarify what we mean by voice search and voice functions. The rise of smart home technology that’s always listening and the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets have changed our relationship with the internet. Back in the days of dial-up (pre-WiFi), getting online was a task that required time, patience and some level of technical understanding. Now access is everpresent and simple enough for anybody to achieve.

In recent years companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have become aware of and acted upon two different trends in technology. First is the increasing need for a convenient online experience, the fact that we want information at our fingertips whenever we need it. The second trend is the realisation that our voice – no matter how fast we can type – is still our most effective means of communication.

amazon alexa

Amazon’s Echo and the Alexa personal assistant offer a new way for people to search the internet.

As AI has become more sophisticated and computers have evolved the ability to recognise speech patterns, voice commands have taken centre stage. The ability to listen, understand and relay back relevant information is a new peak in home computing. It’s no surprise that the market for such devices is on an upward trajectory.

In 2015, Amazon launched the first ‘Echo’, a voice-responsive speaker for the home that sold almost 2 million units. Once Google entered the market with ‘Home’, sales grew to around 6.5 million in 2016. Products have evolved and new players have entered the fray, leading to industry analyst VoiceLabs to estimate a total of 33 million “voice first” home devices in use in homes globally in 2017.

Voice-first can be taken to mean devices specifically purchased for use with voice commands – not just smartphones and laptops with integrated assistants.

“We think that all search through desktop is dead.” – Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer, AccorHotels Group

So How Common is Voice Search?

Before we get into the specifics of voice search and its relationship with the travel industry, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider how common this new technology actually is.

Some may see it as a gimmick. Others might use it every day. But how widespread is this adoption? To give you some idea, at the 2016 Google I/O conference, chief executive Sundar Pichai said 20% of queries Google received via mobile phones in the US were spoken, rather than typed. Apparently, Google was using this figure in workshops with British travel firms last year, so it can’t be far off.

Interestingly, in China, the adoption of voice searches is thought to be even higher, with hundreds of millions of users and queries per day.

Some projections – notably from Baidu’s Andrew Ng – state that 50 percent of all searches will involve either voice or images by 2020. Why might we speak instead of type? A joint Baidu, Stanford University and University of Washington study in 2016 found voice recognition to be better at producing text on a mobile device than punching words into its keyboard.

That definition of ‘better’ is mostly down to speed: It was three times quicker to say English words than type them and 2.8 times faster saying Mandarin than typing it.

But it was also down to the number of mistakes made. We often type mistakes by accident and rely on spell check assistants to fill in the gaps as we go. According to the same study, the rate of mistakes when using voice recognition to write English was a fifth lower.

It was nearly two-thirds lower with Mandarin, which is one obvious reason why the Chinese market is leading the way for voice search growth. Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, has invested heavily in speech recognition AI.

So how about some travel industry specific numbers?

According to Bing – the search engine that’s dwarfed by Google but still manages to carry out 9% of searches worldwide, including for Amazon Echo and Microsoft’s digital assistants – voice search for travel is still at an early stage.

In April 2017, Bing Ads claimed that the number of people in the UK using voice search to book hotels increased by a whopping 343% from the previous year. The number of people searching for flights using voice technology grew by 277%.

We don’t know the figures, just those percentages. While the growth seems huge, it may just reflect the fact that these statistics follow a standing start. Sure, more people are starting to use voice search technology. But more is more than 0; percentages don’t mean too much with a tech this new.

Starting from small: The rising use of voice search

It’s expected that digital advertisers will begin to pump more and more money into voice search results in the near future. But apart from offering targeted ads and bugging travellers about their next trip, how could this technology actually help the industry?

google pixel buds, travel and translation

First of all, there’s its practical use. As we all know, typing is not the most efficient means of communication that we have. Especially when we’re on the move or in a foreign country.

Times like that travellers need information, fast. That’s why voice search offers an ideal way to ease some of travel’s timeless annoyances. When you’re dragging your suitcase down the street on the other side of the world and it’s 40ºC, the ability to speak to a virtual assistant, make a booking or quickly get local information is invaluable. Voice search could soon be the ultimate in online convenience.

Sure, we’re not there yet. But we are not far from the technology making a big impact. Just consider Google Pixel Buds, smart headphones capable of translating in real time, among other things.

Problems in the pipeline

There are a few issues with voice search technology. The first is to do with privacy. How comfortable are we in having devices constantly listening in our homes and with us on our travels? Second, and as we discussed in our feature on Google’s Pixel Buds, there is also a fine line between convenience and authenticity.

One thing we know for sure is that today’s traveller is generally searching for an authentic experience. How do automated translation and an increased use of technology fit into that equation?

Third, and perhaps of most interest to smaller travel service providers: What about the obvious monopoly that a small number of players continue to have in the world of online search? How does this relate to voice search and voice results?

The biggest names in the space are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple. According to EyeForTravel’s Tim Gunstone, the dominance of the big four in the voice search space could mean there’s trouble in store for travel firms.

“Google was the most amazing way to sell hotel rooms out there, they [travel companies] piled in and Google ratcheted up the price so it is no longer affordable,” he said. “The industry has developed strategies to cope with effectively a media monopoly currently, but this is going to happen with Amazon voice, and Google voice and all the other voices coming along. The monopoly aspect is the most worrying thing.”

The problem will arise for travel businesses when the big players in voice search start selling the chance to be listed in results. Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer in AccorHotels group, said “What we don’t know is how much we have to pay to be referenced by Google Home. If Booking.com invents a new voice assistant and will pay three billion to be referenced, it’s the same battle as today but on a different channel.”

Many voice assistants partner with third parties to offer skills. These voice-powered apps could be a totally new battleground for travel companies in a few short years.

Voice search is a long way from the finished article

With good reason, there’s plenty of excitement about the potential of voice search technology. But it’s a long way from being an effective way to interact with the internet as effectively as we’d like. That’s mostly down to the still-limited ability of AI to understand natural language.

That also explains why the voice search engine experience will remain a lousy one for the near future. Sure, AI from Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft can’t yet give us the most coherent results based on a voice query. But that’s also because our speech isn’t always as concise as it needs to be. After all, do you ever read your google searches out loud? We tend to speak to search engines in a different way than we would say something out loud.

In time, search engines will get smarter about the results they feedback orally vs those that appear on-screen. Travel suppliers may also have to start developing search results that are optimized for listening. Nobody is really doing that yet, despite the obvious need for that technology looming on the horizon.

Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, says his company is starting to look at voice search. “You can’t go too broad,” he said, because – this is the feedback I’ve got more often than not – customers start asking it anything and everything and you just get a horrible user experience. And then your assistant on Alexa’s store gets bad ratings and quickly ruins your brand reputation.”

“The instructions that come with how we are going to communicate in AI with a virtual assistant have to be very specific and what you want them to achieve has to be quickly obtainable.”

For that reason, voice applications will likely start small. Asking for the total of your reward points is a great example. Or getting confirmation of a booking you have made.

Bill Keen, VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience at the InterContinental Hotels Group, says that IHG actually trained the company’s Alexa virtual concierge by listening to calls that came into the customer call centre.

“Through voice listening tools they actually powered our initial Alexa implementation in the hotel rooms, where we actually had a repository of things that guests normally ask when they call the call centre desk and we could actually build it into [the device]. Voice is sexy again. I do believe that’s the next interface for us.”

We help you become relevant and stay that way, no matter the medium

travelshift software for maketplaces

Here at Travelshift we empower our partners by helping them build travel marketplaces that get results. We’re well aware that search engine results are dominated by the major OTAs. That’s why our platform provides all the tools you need to build a community of small service providers, content influencers and travellers. Together we can shake up your chosen niche.

Find out more by reading through our case study, or contact us today for more information.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here

Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and the Travel Industry

Over the past few weeks, it’s been impossible to watch or read any financial news without being confronted by Bitcoin. At the time of writing, the world’s most famous cryptocurrency has seen a meteoric rise in value, up 161% ($10,567) in the last month alone. People are starting to take notice.

Whether or not you believe the whole cryptocurrency thing is a bubble or that something you can’t hold in your hand can’t possibly be worth that much, the technology is here to stay.

That technology is, essentially, blockchain. We’ve written recently on the potential that blockchain technology holds for the travel industry. Today we’re going to focus on the concept of a digital currency. How could this make travellers’ lives easier? How could travel companies benefit? And what developments are already underway in this space in the industry?

Could the travel industry’s early adopters of cryptocurrencies benefit in the long run?

If Bitcoin and its fellow digital alternatives are to move from the status of speculative vehicles to real-world game changers, they are going to need genuine use cases. As Bitcoin has grown more popular with investors, a few obvious weaknesses have come to the fore. These include the amount of sheer power needed to run the network and a lack of scalability options. This means that Bitcoin has moved beyond being a medium of everyday transaction, and is now more seen as a store of value: digital gold, if you will.

But blockchain, Bitcoin’s underlying technology, can be deployed in different ways – something proved by the various alternative cryptocurrencies gathering momentum in Bitcoin’s wake.

But let’s start with considering why travellers and travel businesses might choose to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of cryptocurrencies.

Read more: Prepaid Travel Cards Offer Agencies a Lucrative Revenue Stream

Speed, accessibility, savings and security

In a few short years, a technology could come to the fore that will release international travellers from the woes of currency exchanges, carrying large amounts of cash on hand, withdrawal fees and fraud. Decentralised ledgers, digital wallets and frictionless transactions could be the future. These are the founding tenets of cryptocurrency.

How Bitcoin and Alts could benefit travel companies and their customers

We know that Bitcoin is on the rise in terms of value, alongside other currencies such as Litecoin and Ether, the token used on the Ethereum blockchain platform. But importantly, we’re seeing this rise in value correspond with a rise in retailers and brands accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment.

As these digital currencies emerge as a genuine alternative to conventional banking and fiat currencies, their benefits are becoming accessible to ordinary people around the world.

One of those benefits is the ability to transfer money to another individual or company, without needing any kind of middleman. Bitcoin, Ether, Ripple, Litecoin: All can be sent between users without any banks or payment service providers charging a commission for the transaction. Having said that, a small fee is paid for every transaction to miners (or destroyed in the case of Ripple), whose computing power has to solve a complex puzzle in order to confirm new entries on the decentralised ledger.

So cryptocurrencies are not free, but to differing extents, all can move money around at a fraction of the price of conventional companies such as Paypal and Swift. They also tend to be faster, which goes some way to explaining why Ripple (XRP) is seen as Swift’s biggest competitor moving into 2018.

So that’s speed and fees covered.

What about security?

The whole point of cryptocurrencies is that they are founded on cryptography, puzzles that only computers can work out. Every transaction is also recorded on a decentralised ledger. There is no single point of weakness in the network, no vault that can be cracked. The mining community (or more accurately, their computers) confirm and record every transaction on the blockchain. Currency movements are recorded in hash functions with timestamps so that the data cannot be changed or tampered with.

It’s this reason that blockchain technology is offering all kinds of industries ways to enhance security and prevent fraud.

And finally, we come to accessibility. Did you know that a recent report from Mastercard found that over 130 million people in Europe have no access to traditional banking services? Sure, some of us take banks for granted, but that’s not the case for everyone.

On top of that, a lack of trust has developed between the public and the financial sector. Conventional banks are seen as profit-driven, not people-driven, and responsible for global economic problems. In that environment, the emergence of digital currency far from the reach of major institutions is attractive.

What does all of this mean for the travel industry?

Okay, we’re finally getting to the focus of this piece. How will cryptocurrency and all of its benefits impact the travel industry?

Established players in travel and tourism are already embracing the opportunities Bitcoin and alternative cryptos have to offer. Let’s take a look at some recent examples.

Although more blockchain than cryptocurrency, Fritz Joussen, CEO of industry giant TUI Group, recently outlined the firm’s belief that Blockchain technology would become a fundamental part of business in the next decade. He also revealed that the company has launched its own project based on the technology called BedSwap. The system allows TUI to move its hotel inventory to different points of sale depending on the demand.

And then there’s another industry heavyweight, Expedia.com. The OTA introduced the option for customers to make Bitcoin payments for hotel bookings halfway through 2014. It’s a matter of time before flights and other major purchases are also available to cryptocurrency holders.

Across the Pacific, Japan’s HIS Co Ltd recently announced compatibility with Bitcoin for payments. The company started by launching the payment option at 38 of its stores in Tokyo. The aim is to increase the number of participating outlets further. As part of the move, the company offered special bitcoin tour packages.

That’s a few examples of industry giants taking cryptos seriously. Smaller agencies are doing so, too. Take Malta’s Bitcoin Adventures. Originally set up to raise the profile of Bitcoin in Malta, the slightly strange company’s first customer was a Japanese tourist who arranged a three-night stay paying with cryptocurrency.

Thailand has had an up and down relationship with Bitcoin, banning it in 2013 only to reverse the decision a year later.  Plenty of the country’s tourist hubs have embraced the currency, including the Pattaya Beer Garden, which sees major benefits of accepting Bitcoin, including a lower risk of credit card fraud.

Another travel startup, UK-based TamTam Travels, has an interesting business model based on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. The company’s membership portal offers discounts on benefits and services around the world.

As part of a pre-launch last year, the blockchain travel startup offered discounted packages on memberships, with additional rewards of its ‘native’ blockchain currency – called the JIO Token – for purchasing memberships.

TamTam Travels accepted a number of cryptocurrencies for its launch including Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ether and Litecoin.

Our final example comes from TripAlly, a travel/tech startup using cryptocurrency to end the financial pain of international roaming. Instead of paying a fortune for local data, TripAlly aims to provide mobile internet without borders. How? The startup will provide their service as a mobile application that will allow you to access foreign mobile networks for data. Hooray.

But what has that got to do with cryptocurrencies? Well To raise funds to get the company off the ground, TripAlly held an ICO, an Initial Coin Offering; a crowdfunder with the cryptocurrency community. In return for donations, backers have received Ally tokens, which can be spent on the roaming service provided by the company.

Mainstream adoption in the travel industry is inevitable

In the past few weeks, cryptocurrency trading application CoinBase has been one of the most popular apps across Android and Apple download charts. This is not just because people are seeing cryptos as speculative vehicles. It’s also because the technology promises a new way of doing things.

With that in mind, it seems inevitable that cryptocurrencies will become a more common part of our day to day lives. Some of these digital currencies have been around for a while, too. Bitcoin came to light in 2009, yet it still comes as news to many. It’s been a slow journey, but Bitcoin and other Alts are gathering momentum.

The world of travel appears to be open to working with the concept of digital money. The blockchain technology at its foundation is already revolutionising all kinds of processes.

Mass adoption is on the horizon. So perhaps the travel industry’s early movers will reap the rewards when cryptocurrencies become the norm.

Google Street View Expands to South African National Parks

One of the reasons we love technology is its ability to revolutionise the travel experience. And that goes for every step of the journey, from searching for a trip to booking, checking in and all of your transport in between. Sure, there are times when we worry that technology is becoming too central, that it risks diminishing our relationship with travel, not improving it. But that’s one of the reasons why we’re always on the lookout for new and exciting use cases: to make sure they are applied in the best way possible.

This week an interesting application of technology from a company we all know, Google, caught our attention. One of Google’s biggest, shall we say, ‘accomplishments’, is Street View. Google Street View is arguably one of the travel industry’s earliest game changers. Maps, used and relied upon for hundreds of years, were suddenly pushed towards obsolescence. Why look at a 2D, birds-eye interpretation when you can wander around street by street and look around the real thing?

Google Street View has since become of those fundamental applications that we all take for granted. Want to know what a particular road looks like? It will just take a second. Keen to get a sense of an area from the comfort of your sofa? It only takes a click.

google street view travel technology

Taking Google Street View One Step Further

Since the dawn of Street View, it’s been clear that what began as a navigation tool could quickly become an exploratory one; a way to map every single road in the world, leaving no single corner untouched or inaccessible.

That’s an interesting concept and a philosophical discussion to be had, for sure. Do we want every single road and track documented? Do we want every possible path accessible with an easy internet search? On one hand, it would provide people without the means to visit a place in person a way to explore the other side of the world.

But on the other hand, there’s no doubt that a Street View mapping exercise on this scale has the potential to render untouched gems anything but. Is the special-ness, that unquantifiable, intangible magic of a hidden destination, tarnished by the knowledge that you can just as easily walk around it from your bedroom in West London?

An important point to note is the fact that Google Street View is not an adequate substitute for the real thing. You don’t get the smells or the sounds (although who knows, that might be included one day). You don’t get the sensual immersion of actually being there. Yet.

At which point we come to an interesting project that has just come to a conclusion in South Africa. Working in tandem with Google Street View, a team of enthusiastic South Africans have mapped out all 19 of the country’s National Parks.

The huge collection of 360-degree imagery of the country’s wildest areas includes 170 new trails in South Africa’s national parks and reserves and prominent tourist attractions such as Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Cape Point.

Understandably, this was a pretty big undertaking. Here are a few statistics from the project…

  • 170 new trails
  • 900km trekked on foot
  • 50,000 km travelled over the 12-month project duration
  • 232 points of interest recorded
  • 206 South African volunteers
  • 9 Provinces of South Africa
  • All 19 National Parks, 17 nature reserves and many other tourist attractions
  • Lion, cheetah, elephant and other wildlife encountered on foot (guided by rangers)
  • 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • First time Google has partnered with a third-party in South Africa via the Street View Camera Loan Program

Since the epic project’s completion, Google Street View users can visit some of South Africa’s most iconic sights from the comfort of their living rooms. Whether it’s walking in the footsteps of icon Nelson Mandela, climbing seven new trails to the top of Table Mountain, hiking the famous five-day Otter Trail, tracking cheetah on foot or walking with elephants… many things on the tourist to-do list of the nation are now open to people all over the world.

Where Virtual Reality Comes In

To showcase the launch of South Africa’s new Street View imagery, Drive South Africa has launched a microsite that gives would-be travellers a virtual experience of South Africa.

The site – South Africa in 360 – which has been inspired by a similar project showcasing the US National Parks – is an immersive VR-adventure through South Africa’s four top tourist destinations and a collection of its lesser-known gems. The site is a culmination of Street View imagery with video, photos and stories from the trail, offering viewers unique perspectives.

This is a fantastic example of how Virtual Reality can be used in the travel industry. Just imagine the pulling power that an immersive walk through a national park could have for would-be tourists. Imagine its potential for travel agents and tour operators. Photos and videos that don’t do a destination justice could now be replaced and enhanced just by throwing on a pair of VR goggles.

We’ve written before about the possible applications of VR in the travel industry. Giving tourists a taste of the real thing is certainly the most obvious one.

Going Off-Road With Google Street View

More than 200 South African volunteers from across the country were involved in the 12-month long project, mapping out the parts of South Africa that they call home. Many were SANParks, CapeNature and KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife rangers and guides. Others were avid hikers, nature-lovers and tech enthusiasts.

“The hundreds of volunteers who helped along the way proved to be truly passionate about showing the best of South Africa through their participation in the loan program,” says Magdalena Filak, Program Manager for Google.

The project forms part of Google’s Street View Camera Loan Program, which encourages anyone to apply to borrow the 360-degree camera technology and help map the planet.

The team of volunteers was coordinated by loan program partner Drive South Africa. Andre Van Kets, outdoor enthusiast and founder of the Cape Town-based travel company, saw the potential in this technology to showcase South Africa to travellers around the globe, when applying to the program.

“The Trekker camera is a 22kg custom-made backpack fitted with 15 cameras pointing in all directions. The onboard technology plots the camera’s exact location on the trail. While recording, the camera takes a 360-degree photo every two seconds. It’s basically the off-road equivalent of Google’s Street View cars,” says Van Kets.

“For the first time, travellers and wildlife lovers from across the globe, can explore the full spectrum of South Africa’s diverse wilderness areas on Google Maps and Street View,” he added.

Google street view goes off road in south africa

Travel is About Sharing

As mentioned in the introduction to this article and in recent pieces, the travel experience is fragile and unique. That means it can easily be ruined or diminished by the addition of unnecessary tech. Everyone in the travel industry should be seeking to preserve that special experience, not spoil it with gimmicks.

That’s why we work so diligently on our marketplace software: we want to improve the experience of travellers all over the world by building platforms that serve them better. Part of that process is sharing. In the case of Travelshift software, our marketplaces are a place where tourism information and expertise is willingly shared with the public through community-driven content. That’s how our marketplaces are discovered and its a big part of the reason that people keep coming back.

That approach explains why we have been inspired by the way that Google Street View and its partners in South Africa have opened up the country in new, exciting ways. Now anybody in the world can witness magnificent wildlife and spectacular landscapes at the touch of a button. And once they’ve had a taste, you can bet they will want to come and explore the real thing. And that can only be a positive in this case.

An appreciation of the natural world is a necessary step toward admitting that it’s our shared responsibility to protect it, after all.

How Blockchain Could Transform the Travel Industry

When we hear the word Blockchain most of us will react in two ways. The first is by drawing some vague connection to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The second is simply a knowing shrug: it’s important but pretty complicated so we just smile and nod! So today we’re going to try to untangle the complicated mess that is Blockchain. Then we’ll move on to discover how the technology could potentially impact the travel industry.

Beginning with Bitcoin

Blockchain technology rose to prominence in 2011 as more people became aware of Bitcoin, a digital currency based on the technology. After a huge spike in the price of Bitcoin, the public sat up and took notice. The promise of Bitcoin was that through using Blockchain technology, its users could take advantage of a new type of payment mechanism: Truly anonymous, free and secure purchases.

The excitement in Bitcoin was partly driven by the interest in something completely new, as well as the opportunity available for early adopters to ‘mine’ their own Bitcoins – perhaps the digital equivalent of printing money. But how exactly are Bitcoin and Blockchain related?

Put simply, Blockchain is the technology and methodology underpinning Bitcoin. Blockchain can be understood as a database. But it’s no ordinary database. It’s decentralized and encrypted by design and shared across a network of stakeholders. The result is a distributed ledger that can record transactions across multiple computers. This distribution ensures that all transactions are verified by consensus, allowing the flow of digital value to be stored, organized and certified in a transparent and secure way.

Take a look at the video below from Amadeus:

What makes Blockchain unique?

There are a number of factors that come together to make Blockchain a unique and exciting technology. And they go way beyond digital currencies.

Transparency and immutability

We’re living in strange times and there are plenty of people out there talking about alternative facts and half-truths. With Blockchain, there’s no room for misinformation. Once an entry is registered on a public blockchain, it’s there for the world to see. Because it needs the consensus of users to get onto the public ledger and cannot subsequently be altered, everyone can see a time-stamped version of ‘the truth’.

For this reason, plenty of people out there believe that Blockchain technology is ideal for registering ownership of assets such as houses, cars or financial holdings.

Security

Security is built into the Blockchain process. The consensus mechanism has a very high threshold for cryptographic security. Without this, it would be impossible to maintain the integrity of a ledger shared between multiple parties. This level of security is key when sensitive information and transactions are being sent around the world

Blockchain is decentralised

It’s difficult to say how important blockchain’s decentralised nature really is. In terms of payments, the idea is that middle men – those who take a commission off the top of financial transactions such as Paypal – can be avoided.  However, in certain industries, private Blockchains with a more centralised structure can work. The main advantage to having a decentralised database is that there is no single point of failure. If the network is attacked, it’s much more resilient.

Data integrity

If there’s one point about Blockchain that we need to hit home, it’s about this idea of consensus. Because a transaction is processed on all computers in the blockchain, the algorithm ensures that there is a consensus regarding the validity of every transaction. This means that Blockchain data is always complete, accurate, trustworthy and widely available. It’s a shared record of the truth.

Efficiency and cost reduction

One major advantage of Blockchain technology is the promise to improve efficiency and reduce costs for stakeholders. With it, there’s no need to rely upon bulky, centralised record-keeping entities. Hooray!

So those are a few a few key aspects to Blockchain technology. And it all sounds very interesting, right? But now you’re wondering how exactly this technology links into the travel industry? How can the world of travel use Blockchain?

Blockchain in the travel industry

Before we properly delve into Blockchain and its application in the travel industry, we need to fast forward in time from Bitcoin to the rise of another cryptocurrency and now all-around computing platform, Ethereum. Ethereum is a public Blockchain that came to prominence in 2015. Although it has its own cryptocurrency, Ether, it also provides a platform for businesses to build applications based on Blockchain technology.

Arguably its biggest gift to the world has been the introduction of Smart Contracts. What exactly is a Smart Contract? Well, in this case it’s smartness is all about automation, and it wouldn’t be possible without the Blockchain.

These Smart Contracts can automate a range of business dealings between parties without the need for human intervention. Why is this of interest to the travel industry? Well, consider an industry which has a high amount of commission based business. Market aggregators in travel, for example, could stand to benefit. With Ethereum it’s becoming possible to hardcode the stipulations of an agreement between parties into a self-executing blockchain program. For simplicity’s sake: Let’s say “If I hit X in revenue, automatically send 2.5% of X to Y. In travel, commissions between hotels and aggregators could be settled automatically. No more annoying invoices, no more late payments, no more cash flow worries.

Moving on from smart contracts

In a recent report, consultants Amadeus outlined five ways that Blockchain could impact the travel industry in the near future. At the moment, even while the technology is experiencing plenty of exposure and publicity, it’s at an early stage in its development. There don’t appear to be any Blockchain systems being put to use in the travel industry today. But there’s no doubt that the potential is there. Take a look at these possible use cases.

Improving loyalty schemes

We’ve all had experience with loyalty schemes before. But in the travel industry, you can barely book any kind of trip without being bombarded by them. Hotels, booking websites, airlines, retailers… all have different schemes that are a key part of driving return business and keeping customers engaged.

Some are more successful than others. But all depend on outdated systems and principles, with the majority simply offering points in return for purchases. The problem with this method is that points are often left unspent, with travellers frustrated by the lack of leeway and the restrictions on what those points can be spent on.

Sure, some schemes are more flexible than others and allow a wide range of redeemable goodies. But plenty of points out there are left unspent and may even be listed on a travel company’s balance sheet as a liability. And we don’t want that.

blockchain in the travel industry

Blockchain startup Loyyal.

One great example of how Blockchain could improve this situation is California startup Loyyal. The company’s loyalty and rewards platform was built with blockchain and smart contract technology to reduce fragmentation in the loyalty business and make it easy for businesses to partner. The result is a secure system that gives customers more value from their loyalty schemes, eventually even in real-time.

Read more: How Travel Startups can Compete with Established Marketplaces

Improving baggage tracking

As much as the travel industry has developed in recent years, a few age-old problems still linger. One of these is the worst nightmare of any traveller: lost luggage. Lost or damaged bags cost the travel industry a huge amount every year, not to mention the traveller complaints and damage to reputations that comes with it. And the process of tracking it down can be even tougher than losing it in the first place. In part this is due to responsibility for the luggage shifting throughout your journey, from the airline to the airport to ground handling firms.

That’s where Blockchain comes in. It could offer a shared, distributed ledger used by all those within and between airports that at some point have control over baggage. The system would allow for a bag and its ownership details to be automatically logged. These records could be shared among everyone concerned to improve accountability and, most important of all, track down lost luggage.

Automating and simplifying settlements between operators

Remember when we mentioned Smart Contracts before? We know more than most about how the travel industry is dependant on an intricate mixture of operators, service providers and OTAs. There’s a complex set of relationships between those parties, with money moving between them all of the time.

Read more: Travel Marketplace Pricing Strategy: Where to Start

Smart Contracts based on a Blockchain system could change the way those relationships are managed for the better. For example, let’s think about a traveller booking a hotel room. In the background, there’s an aggregator, perhaps an OTA and the hotel itself. Eventually, they will need to settle cash and commissions based on agreements already in place. With Blockchain this process could be automated and executed in a way that maximises efficiency and cuts costs for everyone involved.

Revolutionising identification

One of the most exciting potential Blockchain uses in travel is in the realm of identification. We have all experienced the endless showing of IDs and passports throughout a travel journey, from booking to boarding to airport security to hotel check-in.

In future, the trustworthy and immutable nature of blockchain could transform the way travellers are identified throughout the course of a journey.  Imagine a trip that didn’t require this at every stage. Blockchain technology could offer travellers a more frictionless experience in the coming years. Startups such as Civic are already pioneering in this space.

How Travel Companies Can Kickstart the Blockchain Revolution

Blockchain startups are beginning to spring up in all kinds of industries, and you can bet that travel won’t be far behind. Our is an industry in which innovation is rife and competition drives progression. With that in mind, what should travel companies start doing now in order to ride the inevitable Blockchain wave?

According to Amadeus’ latest report on the matter, there are five steps that should be taken by industry stakeholders.

The first is to appreciate the pace at which decentralised technology is moving. This requires an understanding of what it’s all about and its potential impact on the industry. If senior management is going to buy-in to future projects that involve Blockchain, they need to be educated now, not later.

The second step is to explore Blockchain’s potential even further. Nobody yet knows the extent to which it could impact the travel industry. There are bound to be more innovations and use cases that come to light aside from those mentioned above.

The third step will be new to many in the travel industry: collaboration. By definition, Blockchain is a system that requires collaboration between partners and competitors in order to work.

The fourth step is to, as with any emerging technology, experiment. Opportunities may present themselves to conduct trials and test Blockchain in a real-world scenario. Why not take the initiative and see where it takes you?

The fifth and final step that Amadeus recommends for potential Blockchain adoptees is to recruit with the technology in mind. Understandably there’s a shallow pool of talent out there with the knowledge and skills to turn potential into reality. But working with technology partners and hiring the right people could go a long way towards successful implementation in the future.

 

Instagram Algorithm Raises Questions Over Travel Authenticity

If there’s one thing that all travellers want to do, it’s fit in. Nobody wants to be the tourist, to feel like an outsider in a new place. Instead, the desire is to blend in with those surroundings, to be one of the locals. Part of being a local is doing as the locals do, skipping the tourist traps and finding the hidden gems that only people who know the city well will have discovered.

If this need for a genuine experience is one of the permanent threads running through the narrative of the modern travel industry, others include the need to remember, record and share our experiences. We all want to have memories to look back on, even if it’s a postcard, a few old photographs or a 10-second video. And we all seem to want to publicize these trip highlights and share them with friends and family.

So blending in with the locals and sharing memories are two things that modern tourists seek. It’s about time that someone ties these two desires together, right?

New Tech Detects Attractions By Tracking Locals’ Instagram Activity

Programmers from ITMO University, Russia, have come up with an ingenious, indirect way for locals to give advice to tourists. The research team has developed an algorithm that scans local Instagram accounts to come up with a list of the most popular museums, cafes, streets and parks. By using data from locals, tourists can be sure they are getting as authentic an experience as possible.

Results of the research were presented at The International Conference on Computational Science and published in the peer-reviewed journal Procedia Computer Science.

Clearly, this is an interesting combination of social media, artificial intelligence and travel software. It merges the popular platform used to store and share memories, Instagram, with the desire many tourists have to get off the beaten track.

Let’s go back to the craving many of us have to capture and share our favourite holiday moments. Social networks like Instagram are becoming increasingly popular for that exact reason. The platform currently has over 700 million monthly active users around the world. 14.4 million of those are in Russia, where this study was conducted. There are two examples of why people would post an update about a specific place: because it’s their first time there or because they visit often.

You might be thinking that the algorithm might have an obvious flaw: tracking both locals’ and tourists’ Instagram activity instead of just locals. But the team at ITMO (Or more specifically from the Uni’s eScience Research Institute) found a way to distinguish between Instagram users living in St. Petersburg and visiting tourists based on how they use social media. By doing this, they were able to provide off-the-beaten-track locations that were most loved by St. Petersburg locals.

Of course, popular locations for locals and for tourists differ, but it was important for us to know just how they differ. Guides usually offer tourists a list of 10-15 attractions. However, locals usually know more. By identifying their favorite places, we can significantly diversify such guide books” – Alexander Visheratin, engineer and Head of Research at eScience Institute at ITMO University.

An important thing to factor into any tourism guide is that sites, scenes and destinations change over time. What’s popular today may not be popular tomorrow. As such, a service that works in real time and offers tourists an insight into recent trends could be invaluable.

“Instagram is a dynamically changing environment. Some places gain popularity while others lose it. Sometimes new restaurants or cafés open. Therefore, the creation of a recommendation service which follows photographs of interesting places in real time is a logical continuation of the current results. This is what we are currently working on”. – Ksenia Mukhina, lead author of the study.

ITMO University instagram travel technology

Visualisation of Saint Petersburg residents’ favourite places, according to analysis of public and geotagged Instagram posts, versus those of tourists. Photograph: Ksenia Mukhina et al/ITMO University

Is Authenticity Permanent?

Travellers’ quest for authenticity brings about an interesting philosophical question. At what point does a sight or destination lose its authenticity? The whole notion of ‘off the beaten track’ is that it’s a tourist-free zone, a place where locals get together and do locals things. Do technologies such as the one developed in St Petersburg threaten to undermine the authenticity it helps tourists to discover?

The answer is not straightforward. Take a quiet church or a secluded park. Part of the magic of these little-known destinations is their secrecy and their atmosphere. A horde of tourists would quickly see both of those things dissipate.

And this kind of phenomena could happen on a much bigger scale. We’ve recently written about issues with over-tourism in cities such as Barcelona and countries like Iceland. Although there are many factors at work in both examples, part of the issue is that locals feel like they are being crowded out, like their usual places are being overrun with tourists.

It’s a fact that authenticity can be damaged, if not lost completely, by too much tourism. A key for technologies such as that developed in Russia is to find the right balance: to give travellers the local experience they seek without putting locals off themselves. Arguably this is just a case of simple numbers. But it’s also about education. These technologies don’t only have to locate secluded spots. Maybe they can also advise on how to behave like a local. Maybe don’t take selfies in that peaceful church? Or don’t play music out loud in that pretty park only the locals know about?

After all, blending in is as much about how you behave as the language you speak.

The Power of Community-Driven Content

We’re big fans of community-driven content here at Travelshift. But the technology described above is slightly different to what we usually specialise in. Our marketplace platform gives sellers the ability to invite locals with expert knowledge to blog and contribute to a thriving community of influencers.  As well as boosting SEO with bundles of unique, informative content, travellers can learn from authentic stories, hints and tips.

The notion of passively filtering Instagram data is not one we have considered before. But this study shows how it can be done to effectively make every Instagram user a participant in one enormous content community. By tracking hubs of activity in real time, tourists will never be far behind the latest trends and popular locations.