Crypto Tourism Is Growing – For Better or Worse

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Cryptonation. Blockchain Cruise. CryptoCribs.

These are just several of the names of tourism programs focused on the blockchain industry, from luxury cruises to Middle East startup tours, that are part of a growing trend targeting crypto-curious travelers.

The Blockchain Cruises, organized by the tourism arm of Edinburgh, Scotland-based crypto wallet provider CoinsBank, have garnered a significant amount of attention. Already, the company has hosted two, where crypto millionaires partied hard on the sea, and now they’re gearing up for their third cruise through the Mediterranean in September.

During the cruise, headline speakers include BTCC exchange founder Bobby Lee, infamous token promoter John McAfee, plus investor and bitcoin cash advocate Roger Ver.

While CoinsBank expects 2,300 people to attend the luxury cruise, half the tickets are already reserved and the others go for between $1,000 and $3,000.

A representative from CoinsBank told CoinDesk:

“It’s not just tourism but a lifestyle that we promote.”

Sure enough, it’s the lifestyle of the newly crypto rich and famous – one that many others, including those that didn’t get in early on bitcoin (what are referred to as newbs), want a piece of.

“We’ve also planned several more workshops, the hackathon and even Miss Blockchain contest to support diversity in the industry,” the CoinsBank representative said.

CoinsBank is hardly the only company capitalizing on demand for travel geared towards the crypto-curious.

And although these programs are still relatively small compared to the tourism industry at large, these efforts – including the rash of blockchain activity in (and relocation to) Puerto Rico – are increasing.

For many, the question becomes: Is this community building or problematic propaganda?

Education or solicitation?

But first, it’s important to note that not all crypto experiences are created equal.

So far there appears to be a spectrum of opportunities and goals emerging – some more likely to raise red flags than others.

For instance, as the number of blockchain projects funded and hinging on a separate crypto token (typically created out of an initial coin offering, or ICO) increases, a number of tours have launched focused on introducing people to those businesses and their tokens.

While Switzerland’s Crypto Valley tours don’t specifically focus on ICO projects, the country (with its business-friendly regulations) has become home to many of the entrepreneurs and companies working in the space.

Yet another tourism company getting into crypto, Innovation Experience, sees ICO promotion as part of the company’s mission. According to co-founder Ryan Fain, Innovation Experience is not only about highlighting the unique approaches taken by Israeli technologists in the blockchain ecosystem, including members of the Israeli Bitcoin Association, but also promoting local ICOs.

What rattles some people in the space about these ICO-focused tours is the balance between education and solicitation – which isn’t easy given the opaqueness in the space in terms of investor relationships to such projects.

“The [ICO] tours … in Europe, we have these coffee tours where you get senior citizens on a bus and then try to sell them some shady product, it sounds a little like this,” said Erasmus Elsner, co-founder of crypto-focused home-sharing platform CryptoCribs.

That said, Elsner does believe there’s no better way to experience the crypto community’s camaraderie than traveling together.

And because of that, CryptoCribs, an Airbnb-like application for connecting traveling crypto-enthusiasts with crypto-friendly accommodations throughout the world, was born. Since launching in September CryptoCribs has facilitated 170 trips across dozens of countries.

“You have the experienced hosts who want to host crypto-enthusiasts from around the world and you also have people who are new to space and want to learn more about it,” Elsner said of CryptoCribs, adding:

“They feel like this is a great way to get some of their first bitcoin or litecoin, or whatever, and to use it.”

Building the community

Elsner’s comments speak to the broad objective of many of these activities – that of seeing the nascent crypto community grow and flourish.

These programs offer unique opportunities for in-person community building. Novices meet experts. People from different sides of the world swap ideas.

Because of this focus on bringing newbies together with experts, CryptoCribs allows guests to pay in both cryptocurrency (bitcoin, bitcoin cash, litecoin ether) and fiat – the latter for those that don’t own cryptocurrency yet). Yet, Elsner does encourage people to discuss cryptocurrency and try to promote its use as a payment mechanism.

This is another reason many think these experiences could advance the crypto community. While the narrative of cryptocurrency as a payment method has been pushed to the backburner as of late, its use as a transactional currency could bolster a sense of community among enthusiasts.

Not only could these experiences encourage adoption of cryptocurrency, but they’ve also brought developers together as well.

For instance, CryptoCribs developers have been collaborating with the Ethereum Foundation to develop smart contracts for peer-to-peer transactions between hosts and guests using the ethereum token standard, ERC-725.

“It’s a new token, the ERC-725, it’s still under development,” Elsner said, adding:

“We’re trying to contribute to make it in such a way that it is really usable for the sharing economy.”

Welcome to utopia?

Even with these instances of community spirit for the crypto industry, the broader community in the location these experiences are held aren’t always as happy go lucky about the incursion.

Take the community surrounding the tech central Silicon Wadi (valley in Arabic) in Israel.

Several tours, including Innovation Experience, look to bring tourists to the country who aren’t already familiar with the booming technology sector in Israel. This type of advocacy, in an effort to improve Israel’s image among foreigners, is referred to by locals as part of “hasbara.”

While these portrayals of Israel as a tech utopia in the Middle East receive support from some of the Jewish country’s nationalist agencies, critics of hasbara say its propaganda, whitewashing the way the Israeli occupation cripples Palestinians’ fintech infrastructure and ignores how Palestinians are exploring blockchain technologies too.

Yet, advocates argue Israeli technologists aren’t responsible for broader politics.

On the other hand, Fain is trying to smooth any misconceptions about supposedly rival ethnic groups that live in the region. The truth is there are roughly 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel (compared to 4.4 million beyond Israeli borders in the West Bank and Gaza), who often work and live alongside Jewish technologists. During the next Cryptonation tour in Israel, he’s brought in speakers that represent both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“We like to show [tourists] that collaboration [between Arabs and Jews] is possible,” he said.

As such, it’s clear crypto tourism inherently involves nuanced questions regarding privilege and responsibility.

“In the end, [crypto] is still a small community,” CryptoCribs Elsner said, adding he prefers opportunities to learn about diverse perspectives from crypto enthusiasts around the world, rather than seeking business opportunities during his travels.

Continuing, he concluded:

“For me, it’s still a community project about bringing people together.”

Cruise ship image via CoinsBank

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