How NFTs are a game changer for hospitality, with Supreet Raju

Supreet Raju, Co-Founder of OneRare, the world´s first food metaverse company, chats with The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host Robin Trimingham regarding the radical transformation that is currently occurring within the internet itself, and how the unique characteristics of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) make them well-suited for use within the hospitality industry.

Citing countless practical marketing and revenue generating applications for NFTs, from use as room keys to providing exclusive access to events or loyalty program rewards, Raju explains how metaverse NFTs are increasingly being put to use in the physical world by brand name companies.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Supreet: So, I understand you’re a skeptic today. It stems from frankly the technology sounding so complicated that you don’t feel like you want to know about it. And I get that, I was there a few years ago myself. So, hang in there, even if you’re a skeptic stay aware because it’s going to happen. It’s a tech transformation. It’s the internet revamping. And if we know something, we know that the internet does revamp every decade. So, hang in there for that ride, at least.

Robin: Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS” magazine with weekly thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators.

I’m your host Robin Trimingham, and today my guest is Supreet Raju, co-founder of OneRare. And today we’re discussing how NFTs are a game changer for the hospitality industry.

This podcast is presented to you by Franke Coffee Systems. At Franke, we think coffee is about more than beans and machines. It’s all about the moment when you create an amazing coffee experience for your customers.

Welcome, Supreet.

Supreet: Thank you so much for having me, Robin, an absolute pleasure to be here today.

Robin: I am actually very excited about this conversation because I think all of this information is going to be brand new for a lot of the people who hear this podcast. So, to start, I understand OneRare is the world’s first food metaverse company. But before we can have a real conversation, I think we’re gonna have to get you to begin by explaining what’s a food metaverse, and what’s an NFT.

Supreet: Perfect. So, I think I’ll take the latter question. To answer that first, an NFT is basically a cryptographic asset or just a token on the blockchain. Now, it’s a unique identity, which means it’s one of a kind and a person can go onto the blockchain and actually verify the source.

So, you know right now we have, for example, a piece of art, let’s say the Mona Lisa, we know that’s in the Louvre and everybody knows it’s in Paris, it’s the original one. But for a lot of other art pieces, we actually don’t know where they belong to. So, what the blockchain does is it verifies the actual source of this thing. Now, it could be a virtual asset that could be a ticket to somewhere. It could be, let’s say a hotel room key, it could be a piece of art, it could be a piece of music, it could be practically anything that we have in our phones today that is digitized and put on the blockchain.

The process when we put it onto the blockchain makes it a non-fungible token or an NFT. So, that’s pretty much it, a unique asset that you can always discover who owns it, who transferred it, and gives you control.

And of course, coming to our food metaverse, it’s a slightly different and a bigger variation of that. With the food metaverse, what we are looking to do is create a virtual environment for global food brands, the food industry, hospitality, to come in and interact with users in a virtual environment. So, that could be through NFTs, that could be through virtual restaurant experiences, and much more, but basically celebrate food and foodify the blockchain.

Robin: Okay. That was quite a mouthful. I think I’m gonna ask a couple of questions all at once here.

If the metaverse is non-physical… hotels are very brick-and-mortar businesses, so why should a hotel operator care about NFTs? I heard you say something about an NFT could be a room key. So, maybe use that as an example to help us all understand better.

Supreet: Absolutely. So, I think at the very onset, the reason why the metaverse came in is important as well. You know, we were all in a pandemic where all of us got stuck at home. The hospitality industry, of course, was hit extremely hard by this. All of us saw the layoffs, the shutdowns, you know, the lockdowns that we had, and that has opened up a window for people to interact virtually, but also for hospitality businesses to explore their monetization on the internet through digital means.

Right now, it could be the most famous chef in the world, but he can only monetize the people who come to his actual physical restaurant and eat a meal from him, or who buy his physical cookbook. The blockchain, NFT, metaverse, all these concepts are here to change that.

So, when we talk about the hospitality industry specifically, of course, I completely agree with you. It is a lot of brick and mortar. If you talk about food, you have to taste it. But what the metaverse does is it opens up a marketing opportunity, it opens up a monetization opportunity for this hotel business to say that okay, I can create, let’s say, a virtual hotel where people can come in and check out their rooms in advance. They can check out what kind of a view they’ll get, what kind of room amenities they’ll get. They can get access to their room keys as NFTs, which they can preserve for later. They can actually get, we have, for example, hotel booklets, you know, with all the famous five-stars, we have these membership and loyalty programs that could become NFTs, which means that, let’s say you are a Marriott member today and you hold a hotel booklet for them, instead of carrying a physical piece or a digital piece of evidence, you will have actual NFTs that can be used by you or gifted to someone else because it’s an asset you purchased. So in many, many ways, there are these virtual components that can be added to a physical business as well in the hospitality industry that can just help you reach more people. So, the two of us sitting in two different countries can actually interact using an NFT where I can gift you a hotel experience or a culinary experience that you can go and partake in locally.

Robin: So, are you telling me basically, that if you gave me an NFT, it could get me access to an exclusive event at a hotel?

Supreet: Absolutely. So, the point or the core principle, like if I remove all the layers of tech from the NFT, the science part of it, the core concept is the fact that it is original, it’s traceable, which means there’s a unique code attached to it, it’s not a piece of paper or an email that gets lost that needs to be traced, and it stays to the true owner.

So, let’s say if you own the NFT and you have the unique asset with you, I cannot claim ownership for it. And with that, any kind of membership clubs, any type of, like I said, hotel room accesses, any special events, it becomes unique to the store, and they’re forever preserved on the blockchain, which means that, let’s say you and I went for this special anniversary celebration, we can actually keep the NFTs with us as a memory as well.

Robin: That’s pretty cool. I think I’ve got more specific questions for you because I wanna make sure our listeners really get this. So in the past, some hotel chains have been well known for having access to a business class lounge. If you had an NFT, would that make you able to walk into the business class lounge in one of their hotels all over the world, no questions asked?

Supreet: Absolutely. And there are two very interesting aspects to this, the first being that, yes, it gives you access to a hotel chain, but the second is also that specialty hotels all across the world can come and collaborate using this membership NFT wherein let’s say there’s a hotel in Dubai and there’s one in the U.S. with the same ethos. They’re built around, let’s say local heritage, and they can combine to create a membership program, which is enabled by this NFT. And that would be so powerful because you wouldn’t need an aggregator to run this program, the NFT would do that for you.

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Robin: That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Let’s change it up a little bit and talk about how an NFT might be used for revenue generating. You were talking about restaurants and chefs. Are you telling me hypothetically that an NFT could be used by an up-and-coming chef to gain bigger support to expand his restaurant?

Supreet: Yes, absolutely. So, I think one very interesting aspect of NFTs, like I said, because of ownership, is that it can give you ownership over a real asset as well. So, let’s say it’s the chef building their new restaurant, or let’s say it’s the hotel that wants to expand, this is probably the most latest and truest form of even raising investment because you can sell a part of your restaurant or hotel to the community, to people who will actually maybe have a desire to be a restauranteur or be a hotelier without really getting into the nitty-gritties of it. And the hotel can raise a round of investment quickly if you can give special access to your NFT holders for room nights that are off, or some special meal coupons and things, and create a full community-based ecosystem.

Alongside that, you can actually generate revenue by celebrating or focusing on things like your high season, your special days when you know that you have a lot of incoming reservations, you can actually encourage people to maybe bid on the tables or organize special events using this, or you can actually even take care of cancellations because let’s say if it’s a very high-end restaurant that has reservations for Christmas or New Year’s that somebody wants to let go of, they can actually just sell their NFT to another person, and the restaurant consistently has a whole full because they don’t have to coordinate this process.

Robin: Wow, there’s so much to think about here. Can you give me any examples of hotels or restaurants that are actually doing some of these things?

Supreet: So what we are in the phase of metaverse, or let’s say our foodverse right now is the phase that we call experimentation. So, there are a lot of experiments happening right now. Chipotle has actively been putting out metaverse experiences, they’ve been very consistent with it. Taco Bell came out with their NFT, so did Pringles. A couple of people in the hotel industry are beginning to now experiment with the idea of hotel room nights as NFTs. But we are in that phase where, you know, it’s like the discovery of social media 10 years ago. Everybody’s figuring it out, everybody’s trying to see how it can do well for them as a business, what they can experiment with. So, I see a lot of brands, and even with us, we do have a lot of upcoming announcements around people who are building with us, where they’re actually trying some really fun things in the food industry as well as hospitality.

Robin: You’ve given me a ton of really great examples for practical applications here, but you know how some people are. In a traditional brick-and-mortar business, they can be quite skeptical. So, what would you say to a skeptic who’s claiming that an NFT is just a collectible or a fad and not really a viable way forward?

Supreet: There would be two particular things I would say. The first is that the virtual life or the virtual living that we are creating is not a replacement for the real world. The brick-and-mortar hotel stays, you know, the food industry, having to taste the food, it’s important and we cannot replace that. To say that we want to use the metaverse to replace how we interact in our real life is very dystopian. I personally am not a fan of it at all. The core concept of a metaverse is to improve the current digital experience we have. The calls that we are doing on Zoom right now, the weddings, the meetings we attend, all the interactions we have in our phone on various apps. We go onto our banking app, we go into a food order app, we go into a reviewing app, it’s those experiences that we are looking to improve in the virtual metaverse.

So, to skeptics I would say firstly, look at it as the current virtual efforts you put in your business via social media, and now using a better, more immersive format to engage with that same audience. Every hotel, they have a social media team that they hire exclusively to promote themselves. It’s a marketing opportunity, so is the metaverse. So that would be the first thing. And the second thing I would say is an extension of that, that, like I said, 10 years ago Instagram was a fad for teenagers where no brand ever really thought it could be something that would help them find users, yet today there are entire businesses that have risen out of Facebook and Instagram. There are complete hospitality businesses that base their lead generation on social media. So, I understand you are a skeptic today. It stems from frankly, the technology sounding so complicated that you don’t feel like you want to know about it. And I get that, I was there a few years ago, myself. So hang in there, even if you’re a skeptic, stay aware because it’s going to happen. It’s a tech transformation, it’s the internet revamping. And if we know something, we know that the internet does revamp every decade. So, hang in there for that ride, at least.

Robin: Okay. I think that’s a great answer. We’ve got a minute or two left here. Look in the crystal ball for me, how much of a revenue generator can an NFT really be?

Supreet: I think when we look at it in 5 or 10 years… Firstly, if I say something very extreme, I would definitely be wrong because it’s such an experimental time for sure. But if I look at it from the way I see the industry interest and the way things are going, what we have right now with NFTs is very nascent. We are releasing it as pieces of art, we are releasing it without thinking them through, but we will gradually understand that the permanent nature of NFTs is something brilliant. And that in itself, whether it’s membership clubs, whether it is like I said, fundraising can lead to massive revenue opportunities for any business, whether it is a B2B hospitality supplier, or whether it’s a customer-facing hotel chain.

Robin: Supreet, you are involved in a cutting-edge industry, and I really am honored to have been able to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time today.

You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by “HOTELS” magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry-thought leaders.

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