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You’ll probably have to use cryptocurrency to pay off that ransomware hacker who froze your laptop, but where else might you put all your bitcoin, ethereum and other digital coins to actual use?
Tesla may still be unsure about accepting bitcoin for its electric vehicles again, yet cryptocurrency holders can tool around in other ways now that travel suppliers are warming up to the idea.
Airfare website Cheapair.com, Latvian carrier Air Baltic and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have long accepted bitcoin, and Berlin-based tours and activity booking site GetYourGuide started taking dogecoin, processed via BitPay, in June as part of its expansion in the U.S.
Cryptocurrency transactions “will really matter for travel” and his firm is looking at accepting other coins going forward, said Johannes Reck, CEO and co-founder of GetYourGuide.
“People want to put their crypto back into the system [and] travel is one of the biggest categories there is,” he added. “We take dogecoin now into the real world; you can apply it and actually get a real-world, kinetic experience.”
Cryptocurrency also appeals to younger generations of travelers, say industry players.
Alex Simon, co-founder and CEO of soon-to-be-released travel app Elude, said next-gen vacationers “are looking for modern ways to plan and book trips.”
“The ability to purchase your airline ticket or hotel through bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is inevitable,” he added. “Though the travel industry is antiquated, the new generation of travelers, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, will demand new forms of payments and alternative ways to purchase travel.” (Gen Alpha is generally thought to be comprised of those born after 2010, often the children of millennials.)
Other tourism players currently transacting in crypto include Nevada’s new Resorts World Las Vegas property, which takes it for select payments through a partnership with crypto exchange firm Gemini, and the Bobby Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, where guests can book stays and events with dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies via BitPay.
For its part, online travel agency giant Expedia stopped directly accepting bitcoin back in 2018, but 700,000 Expedia Group hotels and accommodations have been available via crypto-friendly booking platform Travala.com since 2020.
Travala.com also partners with Tripadvisor-owned company Viator, to offer more than 400,000 bookable activities, as well as food delivery outfit Zomato.
At self-described “blockchain-based” Travala.com, which accepts payment in its own native AVA altcoin as well 50 other cryptocurrencies, 70% of all bookings are now by digital coin, according to CEO Juan Otero. The firm said it is currently seeing more than $1 million a week in business.
“These are massive partnerships with some of the world’s biggest online travel brands, all of whom are embracing crypto,” Otero said. “Altogether, Travala.com offers over 3 million travel products, making us not just the biggest crypto-friendly [online travel agency], but one of the largest overall.”
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The cryptocurrency model is also starting to change the travel industry itself. Otero said it’s at the core of Dtravel, which he described as a new decentralized home-sharing network, built on the blockchain model, that Travala.com launched in June.
“There isn’t a single corporate board that makes all the decisions,” he said. “Instead, this new home-sharing network is driven entirely by its community through its ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ that any host or guest can partake in.”
Otero said the blockchain technology Dtravel is built on facilitates “smart contracts” between hosts and guests. The platform centers around TRVL, its native crypto token.
The token is provided to all registered hosts and any guest can purchase it; those who have TRVL are voting members of the Dtravel DAO. (More than $35 million in TRVL rewards were reserved for the first 100,000 hosts to register with Dtravel, said Otero. On July 21, Dtravel announced 200,000-plus properties in more than 2,000 cities had joined; the platform has set a goal of listing more than 1 million rentals in its first year.)
“Hosts can propose changes — for example, fee structure, organizational policy, usage of community treasuries — and vote, allowing [them] to control the destiny of the Dtravel platform to suit their evolving needs,” he said.
It all makes sense, said Otero, in a world of an estimated 100 million cryptocurrency holders where consumers spent more than $1 billion in crypto on the Visa network alone in the first half of 2021. An April 1 Travala.com survey of 1,000 Americans found that 71% of respondents plan to spend more on travel than before Covid, and a surprising one-quarter say they will use crypto to pay for part of it.
Still, trafficking in crypto might seem to many the purview of a special subset of the population — say, the Elon Musks of the world. But, in general, people using digital coins at Travala.com book everything from budget travel at online travel agencies to its luxury Concierge-branded products, said Otero, and their favored destinations don’t differ much from those reserved by people paying by traditional cash or credit.
“There certainly isn’t a secluded island where a bunch of crypto enthusiasts all travel to,” he added, although he noted that crypto adoption has been higher than the global average in Travala.com’s second- and third-most-popular destinations, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. (The U.S. is the platform’s No. 1 seller.)
“With more people holding cryptocurrencies and more businesses accepting it for real-world things, travel is naturally a desirable experience to use crypto,” he said.
Of course, bitcoin and competing coins can swing wildly in value; that’s why travel suppliers tend to not sit on the volatile tokens but have third-party payment processors convert them to fiat value at time of purchase, says Otero.
Consumers reserve their options, too. “We generally see more credit card payments for travel when crypto prices are down versus when they’re sky-high,” Otero said.
Correction: Cryptocurrency exchange firm Gemini is based in the U.S. An earlier version of this article misstated its location.