Booking.com, a leader in travel technology, has announced the opening of applications for the third annual Booking Booster accelerator program for startups in sustainable tourism. Booking.com is calling startups from around the world that are building technology-driven solutions to sustainable travel challenges – in multiple areas – to apply for support from its €2 million fund.
To celebrate the launch of the program’s third year, Booking.com also highlights four key areas of innovation being driven by startups addressing sustainability issues in the travel industry, including projects from previous winners.
Spreading the benefits and effects of tourism more evenly
Overcrowding in some of the world’s most beloved destinations is currently one of the most urgent and pressing topics in sustainable tourism currently being explored by a wide range of startups, together with cities such as Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona. As international tourists have gone from 25 million international arrivals in 1950, to over 1.3 billion in 2017, the United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts that the sector is expected to continue growing 3.3 per cent annually until 2030, a year in which 1.8 billion tourists are predicted to cross borders .
Recent Booking.com research  highlights that most travellers are very open to the idea of adjusting where and how they travel, as well as what they do during their stay in order to help spread the effects and benefits of their trips more evenly. In fact, more than half of global travellers declare a willingness to stay outside of the city centre (51 per cent) or travel outside of the peak season (68 per cent). Nearly half (47 per cent) are also willing to skip major tourist attractions in favour of less well-known alternatives. In fact, 54 per cent of travellers say that they would extend their stay with the purpose of making trips outside of main tourist areas. This all highlights the significant potential for increased innovation on this front to empower travelers to explore further, discover under-visited areas and support more local businesses.
Creating economic opportunities for women through travel technology
Globally, the labor force participation rate among prime working-age women (aged 25–54) stands at 63 per cent compared to 94 per cent among their male counterparts, and the global gender pay gap is currently at 23 per cent . As one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality and women’s empowerment is a topic that is also incredibly important to Booking.com. The scope of this issue is reflected in the growing number of startups globally that are leveraging innovative concepts and business models to position travel-related services as a vehicle to enable women to generate income independently.
One inspiring example in this larger movement to address gender inequality through innovation is the Women on Wheels program of Sakha Consulting, one of the top grant recipients from the 2018 Booster program. Over the next two years, they will provide livelihoods in transport to over 1,000 resource-poor women who, as chauffeurs, will collectively earn over €2 million for themselves and their families, while also providing more than a million safe rides to women across India.
Promoting inclusive growth for under-resourced local communities
In a frequently quoted statistic from the UN Environmental Program, it is estimated that for every $100 spent on holiday by tourists from a developed country, only about $5 actually stays in the country and benefits the local destination and community. This represents a significant opportunity for travel companies to help local communities benefit more equally from the global tourism opportunity and to promote a more inclusive growth model for the larger travel industry as a whole. From recent Booking.com research, nearly two thirds of travelers (65 per cent) say that they would like to seek out more local products instead of mainstream tourist souvenirs. Furthermore, over half of all global travelers (53 per cent) are interested in undertaking experiences organised by the local community if that would help mitigate the impact of tourism .
A striking example of the increasing number of startups addressing this issue, Backstreet Academy is a peer-to-peer impact travel platform dedicated to alleviating poverty through tourism and technology. Since winning the top Booster grant in 2017, they have increased the number of micro-entrepreneurs they work with in Southeast Asia by 16 per cent and nearly doubled the income they helped generate for local communities. By allowing travellers to interact with these artisans firsthand, through their platform they have also helped to preserve and keep alive 213 traditions, crafts and examples of intangible cultural heritage in 2017, looking to grow to more than 240 in 2018.
Protecting the environment
There are many complex and interconnected environmental challenges being tackled by enterprising startups throughout the sustainable travel industry, including limited access to fresh water, issues associated with plastic waste and the ongoing depletion of natural resources. While nearly 70 per cent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 per cent of it is fresh, with the majority being trapped in ice . According to the United Nations, water usage has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. So for communities already coping with a water scarcity issue, this means relying on bottled water, which comes with additional environmental and operational costs. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, globally we produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Much of this plastic waste ends up in the world’s rivers and oceans, polluting the global water supply, threatening marine ecosystems and cluttering beaches and other coastal destinations.
A 2017 Booster grant winner, Desolenator is addressing both the water crisis and the plastic problem through their cutting-edge technology which produces clean drinking water from any source using solar energy. The Desolenator team is currently preparing for a series of important pilot projects in 2019, including replacing all plastic water bottles for an island resort in Cambodia through their sustainable water solution. In just the first year of the Cambodia pilot, the Desolenator team aims to save more than $33,000 in operating costs for the hotel, eliminate the usage of more than 30,000 plastic bottles and reduce their carbon footprint by more than eight tons.
Booking Booster 3.0
For the 2019 Booking Booster Program, Booking.com will select and invite 10 social enterprise startups in the sustainable tourism sector that are ready to scale their business plans to a three-week accelerator program in Amsterdam in May 2019.
The program will consist of a series of lectures, hands-on workshops and coaching sessions, culminating in a final pitch to receive a grant of up to €500 k from Booking.com’s €2 million fund in order to help support the next stage of projected growth for the participating startups. All the startups will also receive a full year of ongoing mentoring and coaching from Booking.com experts, as well as opportunities and access to collaborate with Booking.com on potential innovation initiatives and experiments to help accelerate their future growth.
“Going into the program’s third year, we are increasingly impressed with the amazing entrepreneurial spirit of the startups who apply for Booking Booster and the inspiring innovations they are developing in key areas related to tourism dispersal, creating new economic opportunities for women, promoting inclusive growth for under-resourced communities and developing cutting-edge technical solutions that help keep destinations happy and healthy in every corner of the globe,” said Gillian Tans, President and CEO of Booking.com. “We truly believe in the power of technology to transform how we all experience the world for the better, and are looking forward to supporting the next wave of change-makers who are seeking to have a lasting, sustainable impact on the travel industry at large.”
In helping travellers to explore and experience more than 143,000 unique destinations all over the world, Booking.com also seeks to contribute to the ongoing health of these same destinations so that future generations can continue to enjoy them for years to come. Together with the Booking Cares Fund and the Booking Cares Labs, the Booking Booster Program sits alongside Booking.com’s internal volunteer program, where employees have long partnered with local organisations on projects that help improve destinations worldwide. Together these initiatives make up and further expand Booking.com’s commitment to make a positive impact on the global tourism industry. For more information about upcoming programs and opportunities, please visit the Booking Cares website.
Startups from all over the world are invited to apply for the 2019 Booking Booster Program as of today (November 1, 2018). Applications close on December 2, 2018, so interested startups should visit the Booking Booster section on the Booking Cares website for full information and additional details.