As Bitcoin holds steadily above US$3000, it is worth asking the question – can bitcoin tourism become “a thing?” Another question to ask is, how will this impact emerging markets?
Airlines and Travel
Once upon a time, Latvia’s airline airBaltic, which was rated among the most innovative airlines in the world, began accepting Bitcoin as a payment method. Despite being met with some criticism, this was a landmark announcement that undoubtedly paved the way for digital nomads looking to travel with the cryptocurrency.
In the past 3 years, many airlines and travel companies have followed suit. And the reasons are, of course, obvious.
Bitcoin, with its rapidly growing global appeal, is perfect for travel – both for the traveler and vendors accepting the cryptocurrency. With Bitcoin, there are no bank fees, no need to exchange currencies, it is easy to send and receive money, it serves as a hedge against inflation, and it has a growing value in the marketplace. Paying with Bitcoin also provides additional security not available with debit cards or credit cards. It is no wonder that many emerging markets, particularly in Asia and Latin America are taking notice.
In 2013, the central Bank of Thailand criminalized Bitcoin, quickly changing its mind in 2014. Following the decision, Pattaya Beer Garden, a popular watering hole in tourist-friendly Pattaya, began processing payments made in Bitcoin. Peter Noid, in an interview with Bitcoin.com noted: “We started accepting it as soon as the Thai government said it was not illegal to do so,” adding that the establishment receives “a lot of visitors who come specifically to spend their bitcoin.”
In Thailand, the race to adopt the Bitcoin began very slow, with only a handful of businesses and restaurants accepting the currency. But it seems as though the tides have turned. In June, Bitcoin hit 92,000 baht, a record, which led to a nationwide shortage in computer hardware.
This was followed by the news that Kasikornbank will joining with IBM (NYSE:IBM) to roll out a blockchain-based digital financial contracts to promote new business opportunities within the region.
And Thailand is certainly not the only Asian destination to jump on the Bitcoin bandwagon.
Despite lagging behind most of the world in internet services, the majority of Filipinos are now on 4G LTE, which could reasonably be the cause of the spike in Bitcoin popularity in the country.
In the Philippines, Bitcoin is arguably more popular than previously mentioned Thailand. Adoption of the cryptocurrency has occurred at a rate and scale much larger than its neighbor. As Bitcoin catches fire in the Philippines, one platform, Coins.ph, has made tremendous waves, allowing locals, expats, and even tourists to pay utility bills, tuition, credit cards, purchase cellular phone credit, send and receive payments, and even withdraw cash at local ATMs using Bitcoin.
The upsurge in Bitcoin use is likely to continue as the island nation becomes significantly more connected. On August 3, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law a project that will provide free access to internet in all public places.
On the other side of the world, another Bitcoin movement is taking place, as well.
Mexico may be a perfect storm for the Bitcoin explosion. With a median age of 28, 60% of the population without a bank, and 80% of the population carrying a cell phone, it is not surprising to see why the 11th largest country in the world is gaining interest in the cryptocurrency.
With more than US$27-billion sent to Mexico each year, remittance is another significant dynamic in Bitcoin’s surge in popularity. Following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, many Mexicans living in the United States became frightened to send money back to Mexico. This fear has ignited a new method of transferring funds.
While Bitcoin continues to gain ground among the citizens of Mexico, it has left politicians skeptical. Agustin Carstens, Governor of the Bank of Mexico explained: “The worrying thing is that periodically there are technological, hacking and theft problems, and that makes us very nervous.” But these concerns are not without promise. Carstens is leading the charge to experiment with the cryptocurrency before mulling over regulation. “The objective of the operations is also to outline an eventual regulation of virtual currencies, for which Banxico will take its time and find the best international practices,” he said.
Despite not catering to “Bitcoin tourists” in the same way as the Philippines or Thailand, the large-scale adoption of Bitcoin could lead to a very prosperous future for Mexico, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
In reflecting on the previously mentioned examples, Bitcoin is set to become a game-changer for developing economies. As regulation is rolled out and popularity of the cryptocurrency gains speed, there may be a tremendous opportunity for emerging markets moving forward. Many tourists are already excited about the prospect of spending Bitcoin in their travels, and accepting it could provide a way for these economies to gain more of an equal footing on a worldwide level.
Bitcoin could be seen as an equalizer of sorts. Palestinians, lacking their own currency are turning to cryptocurrencies. Venezuelans are hedging Bitcoin against unprecedented inflation. Bitcoin is even gaining speed in Africa.
As Bitcoin begins to draw the attention of major financial players and banking institutions, maybe it is worth heading to the beach on your next vacation and having a chat with the local barkeep about cryptocurrencies.
Featured image by Lauren Kay on Unsplash