Rich Travelers Prefer Personal Touch
Many wealthy individuals still prefer to use travel agents, even amidst the advent of sophisticated online travel sites and mobile apps that make communicating with a live person for travel needs seem obsolete.

About a third of high-net-worth individuals prefer to use travel agents, according to a new travel industry survey. Meanwhile, the number of travel agents working full time has dropped almost in half to 70,000 since 2000, according to government labor statistics. Microsoft founded Expedia in 1996 and by the turn of the century a raft of competitors began online travel sites.

It’s no wonder so many travel agents have been forced out of jobs: The process of communicating with an agent, expressing needs, having those needs understood and met, and then the inevitable back-and-forth over preferred times, pricing and amenities, etc., seems woefully inefficient, especially when, at the click of few buttons, you can have itineraries, choices and prices presented to you via computer or mobile device.

Yet, “high-net-worth travelers love their travel agents,” says the Travel Market Report. It cites data from Skift, a travel industry publisher, that show 10% of high-net-worth individuals exclusively use a travel agent when planning a trip, and 26% use a travel agent often.

Travel Market Report says that over the past decade travel agents have focused more on luxury travel. Many travel agents catering to HNW individualss label themselves “travel designers,” according to Travel Market Report, providing bespoke services such as in-home consultations. It says these types of agents can recommend exclusive properties and amenities that online travel agents and others cannot offer.
Skift’s survey was aimed at the top 20% of income earners in the United States. Some 1,300 respondents answered 50 comprehensive questions about their travel habits.
—Thomas M. Kostigen

Where Slavery Still Reigns
Twenty out of the 28 European Union member countries are seeing increases in modern slavery, driven largely by a spike in migrant populations.

Modern slavery includes forced labor and human trafficking.

Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery Index reports that Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria are key entry points for migrants entering Europe and that those countries pose the highest risk for exploitation.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 100,000 migrants have entered Europe by sea this year alone, and that 85% of them have landed in Italy. Greece also remains a key destination for human trafficking, as migrants fleeing conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa seek refuge by sea.

According to Verisk Maplecroft, the presence of these vulnerable migrant populations in the primary countries of arrival is a key contributor to increases in slavery. Agriculture, construction and the service industries are particularly susceptible to modern forms of slavery.

Italy’s modern slavery is expected to worsen the most over the next year, as more and more refugees arrive by sea.

Indeed, a kidnapping case in Italy recently made a splash in the news, when a model from the United Kingdom, Chloe Ayling, was abducted in Milan and held captive in a cabin in the Italian Alps. She was then put up for auction on the dark web, and a bid of $300,000 was sent to her agent to stop the online auction from actually taking place.

To be sure, political crackdowns, oppressive regimes and military conflicts produce scores of vulnerable people susceptible to ploys and human trafficking. But technology is also playing a role in the criminal trade.

In Seattle, executives from several technology companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, were caught up in an internet prostitution ring, allegedly called “The League,” whose members promoted the purchase of sex.

To that end, and more, top players in the technology industry have formed an organization called Thorn to help crack down on human trafficking.

London-based Verisk Maplecroft advises that companies across all industries not only increase awareness of slavery risks outside their doors, but also within.

“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” said Sam Haynes, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hot spots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk-assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”

The chief Asian manufacturing hubs, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, all feature in the “extreme” or “high-risk” categories of the Modern Slavery Index. India and Thailand have shown improvements in their scores, however, because of their better efforts to enforce laws related to slavery.
—Thomas M. Kostigen

Bitcoin Skeptic Cuban Becomes Cryptocurrency Investor
Mark Cuban wants in on the cryptocurrency boom even if it turns out he’s right that bitcoin is in a bubble.

Cuban is investing in 1confirmation, a fund that plans to raise $20 million to invest in blockchain-based companies, the tech billionaire said in an interview. Venture capital firm Runa Capital is among other investors, and its technical advisors include Andreessen Horowitz board partner Balaji S. Srinivasan and programming language JavaScript founder Brendan Eich.

“I have always looked at blockchain as a foundation platform from which great applications can be built,” Cuban said in an Aug. 19 email response to questions. “Hopefully we can find a few.”

Runa Capital principal Nick Tomaino was an early employee at digital currency exchange Coinbase Inc. and runs the cryptocurrency-focused blog The Control. They plan to differentiate 1confirmation from the slew of digital currency hedge funds that have sprung up recently by taking a page from the venture-capital playbook.

Rather than investing in digital tokens through initial coin offerings or in the secondary market, 1confirmation plans to invest from $100,000 to $500,000 in early stage companies before their ICO, and help those companies develop their product. Once the start-up is ready to issue an ICO, the fund hopes to negotiate a discounted price.

It’s a more cautious approach to the frenzy that has consumed the space this year, with start-ups raising hundreds of millions of dollars in days, or even minutes, with little real business applications besides a white paper and a website. Start-ups had raised $1.8 billion in ICOs as of last week, according to Coindesk.

The fund will focus investments in projects that help developers build decentralized applications, rather than those aimed at end users, on the belief that the sector isn’t mature enough for blockchain applications to be adopted on a mass scale.

A number of funds focused on blockchain companies and their tokens have opened in the past year as bitcoin’s price more than tripled and cryptocurrencies’ market capitalization surpassed $100 billion. Polychain Capital, founded by another Coinbase alum, Blockchain Capital and Pantera Capital are some examples.

Cuban, who is a majority owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and star of start-up investing theme show “Shark Tank,” tweeted in June that bitcoin was in a bubble, causing the cryptocurrency to drop in price. Cuban says that’s beside the point given the developing underlying technology.

1Confirmation would be Cuban’s second foray into cryptocurrencies as he also plans to invest in tokens sold by his portfolio company Unikrn. Cuban says he plans to invest on a third crypto-related project in the future, as well as potentially buying cryptocurrencies, which he doesn’t currently own.

“It’s hard to establish any intrinsic value for bitcoin or any of the cryptocurrencies. If everyone continues to tell their grandparents, cousins and co-workers to buy, the price can go a lot higher as there is a definable, finite amount, but if the number of buyers dry up or there are a few massive sellers we could see under $1,000 again,” Cuban said. “None of this has anything to do with the applications that can be built with blockchain. The question is whether great companies can be financed and built and I think the answer is yes.”
—Bloomberg News