Digital travel platform Booking.com announced the sustainable tourism startups receiving scaling grants as part of its 2019 Booking Booster accelerator program. Now in its third year, the three-week accelerator program consists of a series of lectures, hands-on workshops and coaching sessions led entirely by Booking.com employees and experts. The program culminates in a final pitch to receive a scaling grant of up to €500k from Booking.com’s €2 million fund in order to help support the next stage of the startups’ projected growth.
The 10 teams of finalists pitched their scaling plans to a live audience and a panel of expert judges in Amsterdam, including 2019 Booking Booster Ambasador Livia Firth, with Okra Solar from Australia and IMPULSE Travel from Colombia being awarded this year’s highest grants of €400,000 for their proposed plans. With Okra’s innovative solar grid technology, they have ambitions to transform the energy market and provide affordable energy access for the more than one billion people currently living off-grid, providing them with new opportunities to share their unique communities with travelers and the world. IMPULSE Travel is a regenerative tourism platform for in-destination experiences, offering more than 200 tours and activities in seven locations in Colombia, empowering local communities to take charge of the narrative around the country’s future and ultimately spreading a message of peace.
“I am so impressed by the incredible dedication of these amazing startups and the innovative solutions they are developing to protect communities and resources in every corner of the globe,” said Gillian Tans, President and CEO of Booking.com. “We have long believed that technology is a powerful instrument for good, including when it comes to sustainable travel. I’m so proud of each and every one of these passionate changemakers and am looking forward to following their progress and supporting them as they seek to transform their visions into reality, helping to keep the destinations that we all love happy and healthy for decades to come.”
Presenting the keynote remarks to kick off the finale to the 2019 Booking Booster, Livia Firth, Founder and Creative Director of Eco-Age and 2019 Booking Booster Ambassador urged everyone to do their part in actively supporting sustainability and innovation in this space: “Sustainability is an ecosystem of moving parts and we all need to play our role. Whoever we are and wherever we work – whether in startups, established companies, policy makers or members of government – we have the power to make a difference every single day. Today we know that we can also make a huge difference when we book a trip”.
The 10 startups that participated in the 2019 programme hail from 8 different countries and operate collectively across virtually the entire globe. Their businesses also represent a diverse mix of models and solutions, including products that leverage technology to facilitate environmental and wildlife conservation at scale, as well as platforms that empower at-risk communities to thrive through their inclusive approach to tourism.
“More than one billion people don’t have the opportunities that come with energy access. We’ll use the lessons we’ve learned and the funding we’ve received from the Booking Booster to make sure we can reach the 40,000 people currently waiting for our plug-and-play energy access solutions,” said Afnan Hannan, Co-Founder and CEO of Okra Solar. “As energy unlocks opportunities, many of the people in these beautiful off-the-beaten-path destinations will start traveling and opening their doors to share their culture with the world on Booking.com and other Booking Booster platforms too! The future is exciting!”
Commenting on their experience in the program, Rodrigo Atuesta, Co-Founder and CEO of IMPULSE Travel said, “With this funding and the incredible support we have received from Booking.com we will continue to rewrite the narcos history of Colombia by engaging 17,000 international travelers in tours that are creating a market-driven peace building movement in 40 communities in Colombia. Make tours, not war.”
The other sustainable tourism startups that are being awarded grants from the 2019 Booking.com Booster Program’s €2 million fund are NotOnMap(India) for €250k, Avy (Netherlands) for €200k, SASANE Sisterhood Trekking and Travel (Nepal) for €175k, Picha Eats (Malaysia) for €175k, Clean Travel (Australia) for €100k, Hydrao (France) for €100k, I Like Local (Netherlands) for €100k and Sumba Hospitality Foundation (Indonesia) for €100k.
All the participating startups, whether receiving a grant or not, will receive a year of ongoing mentoring and coaching from Booking.com experts. This includes opportunities and access to collaborate with Booking.com on potential innovation initiatives and experiments to help accelerate future growth for the participating scale-ups, including projects undertaken together with the Booking Cares Volunteer Program.
In addition to the Booking.com scaling grants that were awarded, for the second year in a row Amazon Web Services (AWS) will support the Booking.com Booster finalists by giving them the possibility to join its Startups program: AWS Activate. With this program, AWS provides startups with the resources they need to quickly get started on AWS – including credits, training, and support – to bring their ideas to life.