The participation of Booking Holdings, Uber and Lyft in the Libra Association -- the nonprofit that governs the digital currency being spearheaded by Facebook -- likely signals their desire to accept digital currencies as a form of payment.
If the association is able to overcome significant regulatory and technological hurdles and bring its vision to reality, the cryptocurrency known as Libra could ease some of travel's pain points and make it more appealing.
"From a positive viewpoint, it would actually help facilitate more travel," said Norm Rose, Phocuswright's senior technology and corporate market analyst. "The easier it is to pay for stuff, the easier it is to travel and the more attractive it might be."
Rose compared Libra's potential impact on travel to the introduction of the euro, which eliminated the need to change currencies every time a traveler crossed into a different European country.
"Think about it now more from a digital currency viewpoint and the fact that you can have digital currency on your phone that you can use anyplace to pay for anything," he said. "That's the big-picture goal."
Clearly, achieving that goal remains a distant prospect. Libra was introduced last month. In a white paper, the association said its mission was "to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people."
Libra will be backed by a reserve of assets making it a "stablecoin" -- that is, a cryptocurrency designed to minimize the volatility of its price. In addition to Booking Holdings, Uber and Lyft, the Libra Association's partners include 26 other companies from a variety of industries, including payments and venture capital.
The Travala.com OTA, which accepts cryptocurrencies as payment, said about 80% of its bookings are paid for with cryptocurrency. Travala also distributes its own token, Ava, to platform users as a reward, whether they pay with crypto or traditional currencies.
Travala founder and CEO Matt Luczynski said he believes the introduction of Libra legitimizes digital currencies with the backing of Facebook.
"It really validates that cryptocurrency and blockchain is something that's going to disrupt industries," he said.
Like Rose, Luczynski said that the travel companies' partnerships in the Libra Association signal a desire to accept digital currencies on their respective platforms. He also said that exposing Facebook's large user base to digital currencies will quicken their adoption.
While the Libra Association's white paper defining Libra states that the currency will be built on the "Libra Blockchain," Rose said that (contrary to most media reports) the underlying technology is not a true blockchain. Rather, it is distributed ledger technology (DLT).
Blockchain and DLT have many commonalities in that neither has a central database, instead comprising a number of nodes, and both maintain a copy of a ledger: a series, or "chain," of blocks on which transaction details are recorded.
But true blockchain is based on a "permissionless" structure, while Libra is not. For this reason and others, some argue that Libra isn't a true cryptocurrency.
In the world of cryptocurrency, "permissionless" basically means that the number of participants on the network that creates the currency is unlimited, and no one needs to get permission from another user or central authority in order to take part. In that regard, it mimics the design of the internet -- a decentralized free-for-all.
"The problem with the permissioned versus permissionless [currencies] is when you have a group of companies that control the distributed ledger, they then can dictate terms," Rose said. He added that he doesn't view DLT negatively; he simply believes that using the term "blockchain" to describe the technology behind Libra is erroneous.
The Libra Association's white paper, while admitting that it is starting out with a permissioned structure (i.e. it is controlled by the partners), said it is the association's hope to move to a permissionless structure within five years.
There are a number of potential concerns surrounding Libra, Rose said. For one, it's run in part by Facebook, which has had trust issues in the past, including a large-scale data breach and unauthorized sales of member data. There are also environmental concerns, he said, because of the massive amounts of energy consumed by blockchain technology as well as by DLT.
Libra also faces significant regulatory issues, with questions being raised by lawmakers and government agencies.
"You've got some of the smartest talent that exists at Facebook, so [when it comes to] a technological hurdle, I think they'll figure this out," Rose said.
"I'm not concerned about that. I think it's much more about execution, regulatory control and, bottom line, value to the market."
While the cryptocurrency space is "lightly regulated" at the moment, more stringent oversight is coming -- and now, Facebook, through Libra, will help mold future governance, said Matthew Yorke, chief digital officer at Northstar Travel Group, parent of both Travel Weekly and Phocuswright.
"It gives Facebook a seat at that table," Yorke said. "It's hard to be a player that shapes regulation if you're not in the game. It's a lot easier to do if you're one of the biggest players in the game."
The Libra Association said its goal is to use its digital currency to empower people, especially those who don't have access to advanced financial systems like those common in the U.S.
Based on that assertion, Rose said, "The main thrust seems to be the unbanked world, so they're trying to use the currency to allow emerging markets -- where a lot of people don't have bank accounts -- to maybe use this as a global currency."
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., in a 2017 survey undertaken in conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 6.5% of households were unbanked, for a total of around 8.4 million U.S. households.
The World Bank Group's 2017 Global Findex Database, which is released every three years, found that 69% of adults had a bank account that year, up from 62% in 2014 and 51% in 2011. The number of unbanked individuals varies greatly by income. In high-income economies, 94% of adults have a bank account, whereas only 63% have them in developing economies.
In addition to reaching the unbanked population, Rose again said Libra could potentially make travelers' purchases easier, whether they are made pre-, intra- or post-trip.
"The idea of having a single global currency that can be used for all types of products throughout the world across all borders is pretty ambitious and challenging," Rose said. But he added that should Libra succeed, it "could be a ground-shaking kind of event. It is a very big deal."