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Are we looking at a new wave of crypto-tourism?

Isabel Woodford

If you reside in one of the world’s few “crypto friendly” cities - namely New York or London - the idea of travelling miles for the thrill of spending your digital assets may seem a little strange.

But not everyone has a coffee shop nearby with a “bitcoin welcome here” sign pegged outside like a rusty trophy. And for those Satsohi-enthusiasts who wish to experience a Lightning Network transfer for themselves, travelling cross-country to do so is becoming a real-life phenomenon - hinting at a new brand of "crypto tourism."

One designated crypto-playground users are flocking to is Agnes Water, a tiny spot on the east coast of Australia with a population of 2,000. Agnes Water now has around 40 crypto-friendly merchants across just a 36 square-mile radius (specifically bitcoin, litecoin, and ethereum). The vendor still gets paid in fiat at the point of sale but the purchase is made in crypto (before being converted). Today, between 60 and 70% of businesses in the town allow users to pay in crypto using just an iPad and a pre-loaded digital wallet.

Travellers can even pay for their flights there in bitcoin, litecoin, or BNB (Binance coin) courtesy of TravelByBit; the firm that has orchestrated crypto-adoption in Agnes Water since June 2018.

“The key thing we’re doing is allowing people to live completely on crypto if they want to," TravelByBit CEO Caleb Yeoh told The Block. "All the way; from flights, accommodation, shuttle taxis, all the way up to this town [Agnes Water]. I want to invite anyone to try."

Essentially, the main attraction here is the promise of seeing crypto adoption in real life - and to put their digital wallets to use. Tourists can even begin their crypto-spending adventure at the airport, Brisbane International, where there are three participating duty-free merchants (see a summary of recent transactions below).

Source: https://flybybit.com/

Notably, Agnes Water's crypto boom is still niche. So far, dozens but not hundreds have travelled across the country to the sunny eastern tip of the continent to get a taste of the digital realm. According to Yeoh, in total, thousands but not millions of transactions have been processed at Australian merchants, including one particularly popular kebab store, which apparently saw 15 transactions in a single month - a feat in crypto terms.

One explanation is that being a crypto tourist isn't necessarily logistically easy - yet. There are several roadblocks - a technological learning curve, limited choice, onboarding fees and struggles, as well as fluctuating prices. TravelByBit's Yeoh also conceded that while the aim is to provide travellers total anonymity in their spending choices, "there are limitations when you take a flight," as users must still share their personal details with airports and airlines.

But the team says this is only just the start, and that the "minority group" of enthusiasts is set to grow.

"A lot of things are coming into play now that will make it much easier, including purchasing bitcoin. Our newsagency just got signed up to Binance Lite", said Gordon Christian, a volunteer ambassador for TravelByBit, recently featured on a BBC documentary. He also noted that while active spending had reduced in the bear market, the team expected the recent price-hike to encourage people to put their bitcoin where their mouth is.

Meanwhile, Yeoh added that the travel model is symbolic in itself, with enough demand to show that crypto-adoption works - boasting $500,000 in airline bookings.

"We are pioneering Lightning technology. We are the only company running Lightning en masse... My goal is to build a bitcoin tourist route in every country, in every city.”

A new wave?

Crucially, travelling to experience crypto-spending differs radically from earlier strands of "cryptotourism" - a term even featured on Investopedia. That was previously limited to describe big, boozy cruises organised around blockchain talks, educational-trips and meetups.

"Those cruises rank up there as my worst nightmare," says Max Merch, General Partner at Fabric Ventures, sharing an email that the Blockchain Cruise company has sold out of tickets this year.

So crypto-tourism is diversifying, and the "payment-in-action" version is catching on elsewhere. For instance, Aussie blogger Jaide Barclay is on the world's first 12-week crypto tour, travelling across the globe with only a digital wallet - aiming not to use fiat at all. Her goal is to be a "cryptotourist" in multiple cities and obscure towns globally.

And TravelByBit says the tourism benefits are extending not just to travellers but also to locals.

“This is about an education process for locals too. Before people would say oh is that the 'bitcom' [sic] thing...We need to educate our people, I don’t want to see people get scammed – old or young," Christian noted.

As for TravelByBit, having secured Binance's backing and a two-year runway, the firm is in good standing to keep expanding crypto-tourists' offering. The next step includes launching a platform that allows for bus and train payments in crypto too, pitching itself as the Expedia of crpyto.

In the meantime, perhaps The Block's reporters need a "work trip" to Australia to learn more.