Cryptocurrency can be confusing. Even those invested in it often don’t fully understand how it works, or how value is generated at all by something that we can’t physically touch. Regardless of your personal opinion on the topic, it’s undeniable that cryptocurrency is having a moment across many areas of life, and travel is no exception.
Travala is proof that this moment has reached the travel industry. As an online travel agency, Travala exists to connect travelers to accommodations, flights, and other travel experiences. But unlike the websites you’ve used before, Travala allows its users to pay with cryptocurrency if they want to. The company believes that Web3, decentralized finance, crypto, and all these fancy buzzwords are set to play a huge role in the future of travel – and it increasingly has the numbers to back up that belief. Matador spoke with Travala’s chief marketing officer Ben Rogers to get the lowdown on how crypto is influencing travel and what the company believes is coming down the pipeline.
First, a quick explainer of terminology
Beyond the basics of what a cryptocurrency is, some of the terminology discussed in this interview may not be familiar to all readers.
Cryptocurrency: A digital currency in which transactions are verified in a blockchain system and encrypted using cryptography, rather than verified through a traditional bank or financial system.
Web3: Short for Web 3.0. A “futuristic” version of the internet in which users operate anonymously on decentralized platforms, recorded by the blockchain and free of corporate oversight and ownership.
Decentralized finance (DeFi): Financial management based on secure distributed ledgers and not owned by one company or individual.
AVA: Travala’s native cryptocurrency
Fiat: traditional currency
DAO: Decentralized autonomous organization, effectively, a leaderless organization created by a team of developers to automate decision making, growth, and ownership.
Want the full interview? Check out the latest episode of Matador’s No Blackout Dates podcast.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matador Network: On the surface, Travala is similar to legacy online travel agencies like Expedia and Booking.com. Except, you are forward-thinking and accept bookings with crypto, and even have your own token, AVA. Give us the rundown on what Travala is and how it works.
Ben Rogers: We’re online with the traditional OTAs. So a user who comes to our site is going to know how to use us right away. There’s no need to WalletConnect (a digital connector of blockchain wallets to service providers). Anyone who has used Expedia before is going to be able to book a hotel, a flight, or accommodation with us. When they get to the payment options, there’s going to be a couple more there as well, beyond traditional credit cards. There are 60 cryptocurrencies that we give you the option to pay in as well.
How does crypto actually work, and how do you use a token to book a vacation?
Effectively, what happens is you get to the booking stage, and rather than selecting the credit card, you select one of the crypto payment options. It works with a wallet-to-wallet transfer. So if you have that token, we’ll tell you the number of tokens you need to send. Which is the equivalent value of the product you bought – the hotel, the flight, or the activity. And then we’ll let you either scan the QR code or you can copy and paste that wallet address into your wallet that you’re paying from. If you send that across, the payment is taken, and you’ve booked the hotel with us.
Are there people exclusively booking travel with cryptocurrency?
Yes. In some of our better months we’ve had better than 80 percent of our transactions are paid for with cryptocurrencies. Our growth as a company and our revenue, we’re very transparent about that. You’ll see that that is for the most part growing.
We also have the Concierge. The Concierge is our luxury travel platform. If you want to book a private island, a private jet, a private castle in the middle of Japan, have some tai chi instructor come stay with you, these kinds of lifetime experiences. 100 percent of our concierge services to date have been booked with crypto.
Why would somebody book travel with cryptocurrency, as opposed to cash our a credit card?
If you already have the crypto, and you’ve been quite lucky – made the right investments and things. If you have a holiday coming up, you want to keep your $6,000 in your account to pay rent, mortgage, accidentals, why not spend the crypto directly on that flight you’re going to need, on that hotel room you’re going to need? You take out the middle man.
As for building a line of credit, you’re going to have to pay the piper anyway, as far as changing your crypto into fiat. We just have a frictionless way for you to take those (hopefully) crypto gains that you’ve had and book travel with it.
It seems like you are eliminating the need to ever go to a currency exchange station at the airport. Effectively, Travala could one day give travelers the ability to use the same currency no matter where they travel in the world.
That’s definitely part of the mission. The mission is we want to be able to empower you through your entire journey. That’s definitely something that we will down the road want to have a crack at, is the ability for you through the Travala platform to pay be able to interact with whatever you want to do in your trips.
What exactly is Web3, how is it different than the internet we use now, and could that be the future of how we interact online?
It’s an internet that’s not owned by a big business. The current iteration of Web3 is the decentralized nature of the ownership of products and the ownership of decision-making in the evolution of products that we interact with and use on the web.
I think there is a major use for this. I think a major driver for the use of this has been privacy concerns, with how companies are tracking us online and what they’re using that data for. The other driver is that the users of these sites and products, they want to sort of reap the rewards of the growth. The obstacle there is that someone is still in charge. Someone still has to set up the DAO, someone still has to set up the genesis team, make the decisions of what code is going to be used to make the front end, the back end. The idea is that they wille eventually shift power to the community and it will take on a life of its own and it will grow.
It’s very early. I think it will be something, I think it will be powerful. In five years time, the whole world will know what decentralized businesses are. I think it will become mainstream, but there are things that need to be worked out first.
Why is Travala so bullish on crypto to the point of basing a business model on something that a lot of people don’t understand?
It came from an insight. Crypto people generally travel around the world, they go to conferences, they talk about the technology that they’re building, and where they think the industry is going. It’s generally like-minded people coming together. The problem of traveling with crypto is that moving money between fiat and crypto is hard. Travala eliminates that obstacle. The founders began doing that for these guys they knew, and that became our business model. Crypto has a lot of regulations, a lot of irkiness to it. A lot of people invest that don’t fully get it. But we make it easier for people to pay, whether they understand the technology or not.
The other advantage we have is that due to regulatory nature and other things, it’s harder for traditional OTAs to accept it. They have a lot of regulations and compliance, things in their company they would need to go through in order to take crypto. We were able to make it our bread and butter.
And this audience is growing. We look at the number of people who are buying crypto, holding it. That’s a pretty good base to build your business around.