After more than seven years with Booking.com, most recently
as APAC regional director, Vikas Bhola has spent countless hours thinking about
and developing solutions to make travel more enjoyable, efficient and
integrated – what Booking Holdings has been referring
to for years as the “connected trip.”
Bhola says while progress has been made in making it easier
for people to search, book and experience travel, early in the pandemic he
began to think that decentralization, even incrementally, could hold the key to
enabling a fully end-to-end travel experience.
His real motivation to create a new solution came
after he experienced a frustrating trip in December, with long waits at both
an airport and hotel, which left him thinking, “What have I done? I’ve spent so
long building stuff and still we are far away from the talked-about
Having left Booking in April 2021, Bhola and former Booking.com product manager Sebastian Honores teamed up early this year to develop a
solution they believe will create a more efficient travel industry, with
happier, more loyal travelers and reduced costs and better conversions for
Subscribe to our newsletter below
“Our view here is that just aggregating supply doesn’t
necessarily mean that we’ve connected the trip. Touchless services doesn’t
necessarily mean that it’s frictionless. So how could we bridge that gap to
make services so meaningful, so easy and give power back to the hands of people
in doing so,” Bhola says.
“The question of who owns the customer, I personally
don’t like that question – because the customer owns themselves and we need to
enable that. What’s happening is that the travelers are oriented toward what a
platform has to offer and they book based on that. And it should ideally be the
other way around in this day and age: We know the customer, and the processes
and the products should actually be tailored around that customer. That’s what
Their solution is a new global identity network for travel
using blockchain-based, self-sovereign ID.
Known as NeoKe,
it won Microsoft’s “Identity for All” hackathon in July and today is entering
pre-launch, inviting both industry partners and travelers to participate in its
effort to build this decentralized digital ID solution for travel.
first step in creating a more seamless travel experience, says Bhola, is to
eliminate the friction that currently exists between identity verifications,
such as government-issued IDs, phones and email addresses, and identity proofs,
such as confirmations, payments, boarding passes and hotel keys – which are
traditionally stored in disparate systems that don’t communicate with one
NeoKe aims to launch its digital wallet in about a month,
with potential use cases related to hotel and flight check-ins, corporate travel, luggage
transport and loyalty.
Bhola says NeoKe has four elements. First is the verifiable
credential, created once, that houses all of the traveler’s identity
information, as well as preferences such as type of hotel room or airline seat.
Second is connectivity, using APIs that connect service providers and with digital
attributes of the traveler. Third is a back-end dashboard that holds transaction
information in a cryptographically secure way, only accessible with secure key
transfer. And fourth is the NeoKe wallet that is used to manage all functions
such as planning, booking and experiencing travel.
NeoKe is now part of Microsoft for Startups and is working with
the software giant to build its system. Bhola says the company is also developing
pilots with some European hotel chains, which he cannot name at this time.
“In the first phase of Neoke we want to partner with
providers. In order for this solution to work at a universal level - that vision
we have of one trip and orienting travel around the customer instead of the
other way around - will only happen when the integrations are at scale."