Blockchain has been the darling of business travel publications and conference circuit for the past year. In simple terms it is a decentralised system of holding and authenticating data through interconnected chains of different blocks of information. No one box on its own is independently powerful but the network is. No one owns all the elements so the potential for one owner having a monopoly over the system has been removed. And the use of encryption means that any one block can have successive stores of data which cannot be tampered with.
Only time will tell but a secure transaction method that is not controlled by one owner with their own agenda sounds perfect for the world of travel management.
Reconciliation and payment is an integral part of travel management. Digital payments are of great potential benefit for business travellers, and value for travel managers. As AirPlus's Patrick Diemer wrote on Business Travel iQ almost two years ago, "Not having to use plastic or make expense reports is clearly an enormous benefit for travellers. But what I think is sometimes missed is that travel managers will be major beneficiaries of the digital payments revolution too. Processes will be easier, data richer and, ultimately, control over travellers and the managed travel programme will be much improved."
Singapore Airlines' use of blockchain for its frequent flyers is an example of what Diemer terms invisible payments. A card or account is registered with an app that holds a balance in a unit of currency (points in Singapore's case) which can be used with certain suppliers. At the same time, data is being collected about its use. This will be a private blockchain (think of it as a WhatsApp group with money involved) for SQ and any participating retailer.
As anyone who has yearned for an M&S sandwich on a BA flight knows, SQ is not unique in letting its travellers use their points to make purchases. However, what is unique is their expanding the currency's acceptance from internal purchases to external retailers — and the card/app issuer will have access to the data.
There is no reason why a company corporate travel app could not be developed which held credits, subject to rules about what could be spent and where, with its various preferred partners. The information about spend could be downloaded by those responsible for budgets and analytics and travellers would get the benefits of the service without the hassle of filling out expense reports.
Unlike a mobile payments system such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay usage is not confined to one payment system but blockchains can have rules such as rate ceilings (as virtual cards have) or be confined to use only with preferred partners.
No one corporate client could set this up on its own but it's only a matter of time before TMCs might offer a blockchain-based service which takes away traveller hassle and at the same time delivers rich data to the corporate.