The first two days of Unitize, the virtual conference organized by BlockShow and San Francisco Blockchain Week, have come and gone with speakers from various sectors of the emerging crypto and blockchain space. Developments around central bank digital currencies, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, have taken center stage during the first two days of the event.

Crypto and blockchain adoption amid the pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak continues to dominate discourse across the social, political, economic and several other facets of human life. Thus, it was unsurprising to see the novel coronavirus featured in multiple panels across the first two days of the event sponsored by crypto derivatives exchange Bybit.

According to Juan Otero, CEO of Travala — a Binance-backed blockchain travel agency — the Travala platform saw a 90% drop in bookings due to COVID-19. With many countries locking down their national borders, the global hospitality business is arguably one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with countries beginning to open up for summer tourism, the travel industry might be seeing a reprieve. Speaking at Unitize, Otero revealed that domestic bookings increased by 160% in June.

As part of the recovery efforts, Otero announced Travala’s partnership with global travel bookings giant Expedia. The collaboration will see the adoption of crypto payments for Expedia’s network of over 700,000 hotels.

Despite the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, Balaji Srinivasan, general partner at venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, said the pandemic will trigger faster crypto and blockchain adoption. Speaking at the conference on Monday, the former chief technology officer of Coinbase remarked that perceived government overreach in managing the crisis will push people toward crypto, adding:

“Ultimately, there are two modalities that people can accept: A, we have total power; B, no one has power over us. On the other hand of the spectrum you have Bitcoin, which is open state, open source, open execution, totally inspectable, totally transparent, based on mathematics and no one has power over it.”

According to Srinivasan, people keen on preserving their fundamental rights will see crypto and blockchain as a viable means of escaping unfavorable government policies. Echoing Srinivasan’s comments, Meltem Demirors, chief strategy officer of CoinShares, declared that Bitcoin will feature prominently in the changing geopolitical landscape. According to Demirors, Bitcoin is leading the way to becoming “resistance money.”

While Bitcoin might offer financial freedom to people across the world, Dan Morehead, founder of crypto VC firm Pantera Capital, sees altcoins outperforming Bitcoin in the next few years. Appearing at Unitize, Morehead predicted that altcoins with smaller market capitalizations will see greater price gains than BTC in the near future.

CBDC interoperability and the demise of private stablecoins

China continues to lead the way in terms of CBDC development with its digital currency electronic payment, or DCEP, project. According to Matthew Graham, CEO of Sino Global Capital, China’s sovereign digital currency has its eyes on challenging the United States dollar’s domination of international trade.

Appearing at Unitize on Monday, Graham argued that authorities in Beijing see the DCEP as an opportunity to internationalize the yuan. The veteran investment banker also revealed that the digital yuan will play a pivotal role in shaping domestic monetary policies.

Apart from China, several countries are currently developing their own CBDC plans. For Douglas Arner, director of the Asian Institute of International Financial Law at the University of Hong Kong, blockchain interoperability will play a pivotal role in the success of these endeavors.

Speaking on day two of the blockchain conference, Arner remarked that establishing interface points between CBDC projects will constitute a major hurdle for many countries. According to Arner, the absence of interoperability will limit the effectiveness of CBDC projects in international trade. Arner pointed to the DCEP and China’s ability to leverage relationships with countries around the world, adding:

“If we think of the Chinese [CBDC] proposal at the moment, it is largely limited to operating within the context of the physical and electronic borders. But one can imagine how in the context of those electronic borders, if one integrates the system with, say, the RMB swap lines that are engaged in a range of different countries, that sort of RMB electronic area can be expanded outside.”

Additionally, Arner also pointed to CBDC projects from the U.S. and the European Union as having the potential to enjoy such international leverage. While some national stablecoin projects might face adoption difficulties, Peter Dittus, chief economist of SFB Technologies, does not see a path to success for privately issued stablecoins. At the conference on Tuesday, Dittus predicted a bleak future for private stablecoins. For CBDCs, however, he remarked that such projects showed significant promise.

Ditus also echoed similar sentiments to those espoused by Arner, stating that CBDCs would only be as successful as the countries that issue them. According to Dittus, no one is going to be interested in a sovereign digital coin minted by a nation suffering from crippling hyperinflation.

Blockchain talk: Adoption and industry growth

On the blockchain front, Singapore continues to establish itself as a hub for the adoption of distributed ledger technology. On Monday, a group of Singaporean DLT firms showcased a map of the country’s blockchain landscape, revealing a 50% growth in the industry over the past year. Singaporean DLT firms are reportedly making forays into the expanding decentralized finance market.

Meanwhile, blockchain giants Cosmos, Polkadot and Terra are partnering to launch a new DeFi savings service called Anchor. Revealed at Unitize on Monday, Anchor will allow users to deposit stablecoins for staking on supported proof-of-stake blockchains and earn passive income.

Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood also identified Polkadot’s governance system as a viable means of creating an architecture for blockchain interoperability. According to Wood, Polkadot’s metaprotocol could allow for DLT networks to evolve autonomously.

For Paul Gadi, chief technology officer of Outplay Games, blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt several facets of the gaming industry. In his appearance at Unitize, Gadi identified asset ownership, decentralized identity and storage as aspects of the gaming space primed for DLT utilization.

According to a recent report from LeadBlock Partners, funding is a problem for European blockchain firms. But billionaire investor Tim Draper is certain that initial public offerings are not the solution for the industry. Speaking at the virtual blockchain conference, the venture capitalist and crypto investor advised startups against going public unless their firms are valued above $10 billion.

According to Draper, the cost of compliance with the IPO process makes it an unsuitable fundraising vehicle for blockchain startups. Instead, Draper offered VC firms and tokenization as alternative routes for obtaining capital.