Aruba is a 19-mile-long island in the Caribbean Sea that relies almost entirely on tourism. The travel industry constitutes about 88 percent of its gross domestic product and 90 percent of its total employment. But the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) loses potential tourism profits to dominating off-island companies like Priceline, Expedia, and Travelocity. The country is now teaming up with the Swiss startup Winding Tree to counteract this situation by piloting a blockchain-based travel marketplace.
Winding Tree is a nonprofit that encourages innovation and disruption in the travel industry through the use of blockchain. The blockchain is a type of computing that spreads data storage out and secures it among multiple computers rather than in a centralized hub, which was made famous by being the basis for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Winding Tree will be building its public travel marketplace with a blockchain technology called Ethereum; a programmable platform that can be adapted to many purposes and industries.
Winding Tree is collaborating with the ATECH Foundation, which works to boost technological innovations on Aruba. Together, they seek to connect tourists directly to sources of travel inventory, such as airlines seats and hotel rooms, thus removing the middleman and increasing the direct profit for the island. The Winding Tree site states, “No centralized control means no exorbitant transaction fees and no barriers for entry,” for consumers, adding that this platform allows “small companies to compete with big players.”
At a November 2017 Travel Tech Conference, Winding Tree representatives answered questions about their vision and offerings of blockchain in the travel industry. They explained hotels would be the first market they focus on because unlike airlines, “They have static inventory which doesn’t move… That makes it easier for scalability terms and managing the inventory on the blockchain.”
This initiative will also begin by focusing on business-to-business (B2B) implementation, so that the companies can be the ones interacting directly with the Ethereum platform. This way, Winding Tree hopes it won’t deter consumers who are unfamiliar with the technology. However, “blockchain-savvy users can book directly through the blockchain,” the nonprofit reps explained.
Winding Tree plans to launch its Ethereum-based travel marketplace in beta for early users at the beginning of 2018. The commercial release is currently scheduled for late 2018. Winding Tree has already partnered with the Australian hotel software company Room Ranger and the German airline Lufthansa.
ATECH Co-founder Varelie Croes has a vision of Aruba becoming a “tech hub,” and feels that as a constituent country of the Netherlands, it “already has strong business links with Europe and the rest of the world.” Ecotourism has been another related major focus for the island in the last decade.