The Booking Booster Finale!

The Booking Booster Finale!

The moment we have all been waiting for over the past three weeks has finally arrived. During this great journey, the 10 Booster startups learned a lot from their mentors and coaches, and now the recipients of a share of the €2 million fund have been announced.

 After hearing the final pitches of the startups at NEMO in Amsterdam, the panel of judges awarded this year’s Booking Booster top grants to Backstreet Academy, Seabin Project, Awake and Authenticook.

 Here come the highlights of the award ceremony:



Gillian Tans (CEO kicking off the grand finale

Gillian Tans (CEO kicking off the grand finale

Gillian Tans opened the event by introducing the final pitches of the startups. She also reminded the 200 attendees of the live event about what has done so far to promote a culture of sustainability in tourism, and explained why this commitment is so important to the company.

 “For the past three years we have contributed to improving destinations all over the world by volunteering our time and expertise through our Booking Cares Volunteer Programme. Our 15,000+ employees have been making a difference by partnering with local organisations that are working on sustainable tourism initiatives all across the globe”

The Booking Booster was a natural continuation of this path and a unique occasion to make’s expertise available to today’s most promising startups that can shape the future of the tourism industry.

Pete (Seabin Project) answering the questions of the judges

Pete (Seabin Project) answering the questions of the judges



Each startup had just 3 minutes to pitch their scaling plan to the 5 judges and persuade them to vote for them. If you think this was the hardest part, think again: every pitch was followed by a 7 minute Q&A session, which all startups handled brilliantly!


Authenticook and Local Alike celebrating their Booster success

Authenticook and Local Alike celebrating their Booster success

“The ambitious creativity and innovative ideas we’ve seen from all of the startups who joined our Booster Programme this year were truly inspiring,” said Gillian Tans, CEO of “I was particularly impressed with the entrepreneurial vision they all demonstrated in approaching a wide array of different challenges related to sustainable tourism. I’m really looking forward to seeing their plans unfold over the coming months and years, and to following the future successes of these amazing companies as they continue to bring their vision for a more sustainable future for the global tourism industry to even more destinations worldwide.”





And then came the big announcement! Backstreet Academy (South East Asia) and Authenticook (India) got their full scaling funding needs granted of €400,000 and €200,000.  

The other startups that are being awarded part of their requested grants are: Seabin Project (Australia & Spain) for €350k; Local Alike (Thailand) for 300k; Awake (Colombia) for €300k; Good Hotel Group for €300k; and (Global) for €150k.

“Being a part of Booster has been amazing,” said Jamon Mok Zixuan, CEO and Co-Founder of Backstreet Academy, also adding that the team now wants to “bring the concept of impact travel mainstream and implement it globally with the help of the network.”


Teams of  Local Alike, Seabin Project, Backstreet Academy, and Awake celebrating

Teams of  Local Alike, Seabin Project, Backstreet Academy, and Awake celebrating


“It’s been great to connect with other like-minded entrepreneurs from around the world as part of Booster,” said Somsak Boonkam, Founder and CEO of Local Alike. “We’ve learned so much from this experience and are inspired to take our vision for inclusive community-based tourism to more destinations and people around the world.”



This exciting adventure started by was only the beginning of an ongoing collaboration aimed at making a lasting impact on the world of tourism, as Gillian pointed out:

“For us, the journey doesn’t end today. For the next 6 to 9 months each startup will receive mentorship from experts to help guide them in the growth and development of their businesses. They also become part of a network of organizations working to make the travel industry more sustainable.

Together, we’re confident that we can continue to build a more sustainable future for the global tourism industry—one destination at a time.”

Meet the mentors teaming up with the Booster startups

Meet the mentors teaming up with the Booster startups

Twenty-four experts have been selected to work with the Booster startups, and for the next six months they will support them on executing their scaling plans. The mentors come from different fields of expertise and various graphic regions and have been matched to the capacity needs of the startups. We asked three of the mentors, Michael Condon, Judith Figas and Vladimir Indzhov, why they signed up for this role for the Booster and how they feel about working with the startup entrepreneurs.


Michael Condon 

Regional Manager Agency Operations, Translations / Amsterdam

Why did you join the Booster as a mentor?

I wanted to join the Booking Booster as I naturally like problem solving, sharing my experiences, and ultimately helping people. I felt that startups have a lot of opportunity to find creative solutions to get the most out of limited resources, which I would find to be highly motivating. I thought it would be rewarding to help others build and scale their business while having a positive impact on people and places.

Scott (Mejdi) meeting their mentors Megan and Michael

Scott (Mejdi) meeting their mentors Megan and Michael

In which area do you think you can really help Mejdi reaching more scale?

I think the methodology of making data informed decisions has really become part of how I work. I think I can help them with understanding their web analytics from targeting an audience, localizing their content, and making more data driven decisions. Also, I can share my observations and experiences of what it takes to manage work and engage teams remotely.


What do you get from this experience?

I’m already feeling very excited about mentoring Mejdi for the coming months. These startups are trying to make a positive impact on the world at a large scale. I find it extremely rewarding to support them in what they're accomplishing. I’ve just spent two afternoons getting to know more about Aziz and Scott and how they're scaling their business to reach more people in more destinations. It's inspiring to see how much motivation they and the rest of the startups have to positively impact people and places. Looking forward to seeing these businesses grow!


Scott & Aziz of MEJDI on meeting Michael

 "It was great to meet Michael and Megan (co-mentor). We instantly had a connection and went for drinks afterward. They already gave us lot of new insights on planning, scaling decks, pitching…pretty much everything!

We are going to meet up in Florida! ;) At Grand Rapids probably. We hope to get their continuous support and advice with the execution of the scaling plan."

Aziz sharing the Mejdi tours story with the mentors

Aziz sharing the Mejdi tours story with the mentors


Vladimir Indzhov

Area Manager / Sofia

Why did you join the Booster as a mentor?

It always felt for me that has an even bigger purpose and this is the proof and opportunity to make an impact. And of course I’m looking forward to learn a lot along along the process as well!

Alexei and Catriona (Desolenator) getting to know their mentors Vladimir and Jitka

Alexei and Catriona (Desolenator) getting to know their mentors Vladimir and Jitka


In which area do you think you can really help Desolenator reaching more scale?

In finding the overlapping value of their idea and sustainable impact we are looking for. More closely - by acting as connector, sharing hospitality experience and knowledge of building winning teams with a healthy culture.


What do you get from this experience?

The entrepreneurial innovative spirit is natural to the startups, I would like to learn how to make sure that our teams fully adopt that similar spirit as well.


Alexei sharing the story of Desolenator with the mentors

Alexei sharing the story of Desolenator with the mentors


Catriona of Desolenator on meeting Vladimir

"It was great meeting them! They already knew what Desolenator is all about. They promised to introduce us to Account Managers operating in areas where hotel partners (might be) interested in installing Desolenator, which would be awesome! This would allow us to collect very valuable feedback in order to get a good test base of hoteliers working with us. We want to understand the lifecycle of the water in different geographic regions where hotels are located to better tailor our product to the needs of the hoteliers." 


Judith Figas

Hotel Area Manager / Hamburg

Why did you join the Booster as a mentor?

In my 8 years with I took different business trainings with a few fully focused on coaching, which I really love to do. When I saw the opportunity of being able to share my built expertise at to help other startups grow, I immediately applied.

Clemens and Cristina (Good Hotel) with in their midst their mentor Judith  

Clemens and Cristina (Good Hotel) with in their midst their mentor Judith


In which area do you think you can really help Good Hotel reaching more scale?

By applying my coaching skills. First of all by listening very actively to fully understand their challenges and the obstacles they are facing. Exploring different scenarios with them, being critical from an outside perspective and sharing my experience of working for many years in the hospitality industry.


What do you get from this experience?

After getting to know Good Hotel, I felt immediately inspired by how they combine running a hotel with educating and making room for people who otherwise would never have a chance at a job like that in a 5 star hotel!

Plus I love the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a startup, and it feels great to be surrounded by such a passionate team that makes it work with such limited resources.


Cristina of Good Hotel on meeting Judith

"We immediately liked our mentors! They really cater towards our needs and we feel like there is a personal connection already, which was probably due to the fact that they joined us at some of the extra sessions, like meeting up with the tech team. They already shared a lot of interesting tools that we use to operate our company more efficiently. It would be even better if they had more time to spend with us. We would like them to become part of our community!"

Cristina, Good Hotel

Cristina, Good Hotel

Booster week two: getting ready for the final pitch

Booster week two: getting ready for the final pitch

During week two of the programme, the Booster startups perfected their pitches, and developed different parts of their business with the support of experts from and the Impact Hub. They covered several area, from developing financial models, optimising their technology solutions, building fruitful partnerships to developing proactive PR and media strategies. Week two was a busy and exciting week but of course there was time to enjoy Amsterdam as a destination too! The group went for a boat ride on the canals, while discussing their personal challenges as entrepreneurs.

Sascha from Seabin Project commented on the second week saying: “It's so good to be away from the office for a few weeks and really work on our plans and priorities. And not get distracted by the 999 daily emails.”

Some highlights of the week:

Marketing in a shoestring and communication deep dives 

Day one was focused on marketing and how to successfully build and execute a strategy on a limited (shoestring) budget. Each team started the day with a self assessment based on their current marketing results and then zoomed in on various parts of their marketing strategies such as social media, PR, media planning and developing and testing communication campaigns.  

Dana and Michal from working on their marketing strategies

Dana and Michal from working on their marketing strategies

Awake from Colombia found out that, although almost all travellers who booked a nature trip with them become ambassadors for their company, still much needs to be done to make their website really user friendly. “Only 1,8% of visitors end up booking - the site doesn’t seem to be user friendly and it can confuse users on what to do and how to find their trip” said Laura from Awake.

One of Backstreet Academy’s biggest challenges is to conquer the Chinese market and dealing with the uncertainty that comes with entering a market they don’t know. To their help came Kelly Lee (Global Media Manager, who explained how essential it is to target the right person at the right time with the right message.

Chloe McCloskey (Content and Editorial Lead talked about how to use social media as an effective way to speak to the audience. “Social Media may seem like an easy-win marketing channel, but it’s very easy to get wrong”. She explained that before getting into action it’s important to think about why a business wants to be present on social media (for example for demand creation, brand recognition or trustworthiness) and what the implications of this decision are. One of the key takeaways is that entering the realm of social media means opening up a platform for conversations with customers, so it is essential to think about what you want those conversations to look like.

Cristina from Good Hotel reflected on the day commenting that she finds it challenging to maintain the brand’s values in each location with different stakeholders. Chloe’s ( answer to this challenge is starting with building a strong brand base in the central location and then working with each location and giving them the freedom to adapt it to their market.

 During the session on developing campaigns, the key takeaways were:

Robert Schreuders (Marketing Manager) and Diana Marcela Agudelo Hernandez (Senior Marketing Communication Lead

Robert Schreuders (Marketing Manager) and Diana Marcela Agudelo Hernandez (Senior Marketing Communication Lead

  1. Data is king
  2. Test, test, test and then optimise

Working in an agile manner means lower risk and higher reward. Robert Schreuders (Marketing Manager) and Diana Marcela Agudelo Hernandez (Senior Marketing Communication Lead showed two images of the search box of’s website and asked the startups to find the difference in design. No one spotted the round shape of the search button compared to the angular shaped edges on the other image. This example was to prove how a tiny detail can make a difference in conversion rates.


Pizza and Pitching

After a full day of immersion into marketing and communications strategy, it was time to practice the pitches! While enjoying pizza, pitch trainer and TEDx coach David Beckett shared his expertise on how to give the perfect pitch.

David Beckett challenging the startups to 3-minute-pitch their businesses perfectly

David Beckett challenging the startups to 3-minute-pitch their businesses perfectly

 Laura from Awake said about the session, “I have never met anyone who can teach so well how to communicate and express ideas in a  powerful and synthetic way!”

 All startups had the chance to directly implement the learnings David shared and practice their pitches with each other.


Building a future-proof organisation

On Tuesday all startups worked on their scaling plans and on Wednesday we invited Nicolas Chevrollier (Executive Director of the Inclusive Business Accelerator (IBA) and a visiting fellow at Nyenrode Business Universiteit) to talk about how to build a future-proof business. He explained that in a business world that is more complex and interconnected than ever, new generations have expectations that favour personal development and more sustainability in the workplace. Consequently, companies evolve to cope with these new parameters and become future-proof organisations.

Pete from Seabin commented, “We realise that the successful set up for the future also depends on the people you chose to work with you in your business. We want to expand our team. We need people with the same mindset and warmth.”

Pete sharing the Seabin Project story

Pete sharing the Seabin Project story

Catriona from Desolenator wondered how to keep the company culture while growing. Nicolas answered that, “unfortunately you can not control this, but you have to be clear on what your core is - you have to smell and breathe it. Try to have at least one personal connection a year with you employees if you’re spread across locations. And tell stories. Stories are the way to keep the core alive.”


Tech consulting sessions

Wednesday afternoon the group went to TQ, the Amsterdam based startup tech hub, to speed date with over 20 Tech experts from

Cristina of Good Hotel with her mentor, Judith Figas, in conversation with Jeff Pan during the tech consulting sessions at TQ in Amsterdam

Cristina of Good Hotel with her mentor, Judith Figas, in conversation with Jeff Pan during the tech consulting sessions at TQ in Amsterdam

Jamon from Backstreet Academy said, “The security guys started off our session with some slides on the importance of security. We’ve learned so many new things so fast!”

Priyanka from Authenticook added, “The tips of the Tech experts were great. We are now implementing their advice. Do testing on price differentiation (with hosts) and pop-up survey questions on the site (with guests), to be quicker to find out what people want, instead of implementing things based on our assumptions.”

Getting investor ready

Thursday was all about finance scenarios and investor’s views. During the morning the startups had 1-on-1 sessions with Finance experts from, working on three financial scenarios: worst, normal, best case. In the afternoon each team pitched to a panel of 3 investors, including Peter Hofmann and Jae Chung, part of’s Corporate Development team. Prior to listening to the startup pitches, Peter and Jae said that in order to prepare your pitch for investors you need to: 1. know your market cold, 2 know the business problems you aim to solve. They also emphasised the importance of data: have a business model overview; draw a historical financial performance and KPIs and create a realistic 3-5 business plan.'s finance experts giving booster support.'s finance experts giving booster support.


Pitching to 300 of’s ‘techies’

The week ended with a big practice pitch in front of more than 300 tech experts from during their annual get together. It was an exciting afternoon and the startups said it was valuable to receive feedback in preparation of the final pitch event this Thursday.  To wash off the adrenaline, everyone enjoyed a very well deserved locally brewed Amsterdam beer and a BBQ.

Ameya from Authenticook high-fiving after delivering a great pitch.

Ameya from Authenticook high-fiving after delivering a great pitch.

The final week

Now it’s time for the startups to finalise their scaling plans and pitch decks.  Thursday will mark the climax of this adventure, as they pitch their scaling plans to a live audience (you!) and panel of expert judges for a chance to be awarded up to €500,000 for their proposed scaling plans. So stay tuned to follow everything about the grand Booster finale.


Booster week one: 10 startups get ready to scale!

Booster week one: 10 startups get ready to scale!

And we’re at the end of the first week already! On Sunday 10 entrepreneurs from around the world arrived, buzzing to be in the Dutch capital as part of’s first ever Booster Programme. 

Ana-Carolina & Cristina (Good Hotel) with Peter Verhoeven (Managing Director EMEA at

Ana-Carolina & Cristina (Good Hotel) with Peter Verhoeven (Managing Director EMEA at

Usually we’re so busy working in the business, now we actually have time to work on the business”. – Scott Cooper, Mejdi Tours

Kicking off the week was meet and greets of course.  From tourism to protect biodiversity in Colombia to breaking the cycle of poverty by enabling social dining experiences in India, our entrepreneurs and their businesses are a diverse bunch.


Think big

Each entrepreneur already makes big impact but has even bigger ambitions… Asked what the front page of a newspaper would report about their ventures in eight years time, only the sky seemed to be limit!

‘100 Million People Now Drinking Carbon Neutral Water’- Desolenator

‘New Way of Travelling Helps Millions Out of Poverty’ - Backstreet Academy

‘Tour Company Wins Nobel Peace Prize’- Mejdi Tours

Priyanka Deshpande, Authenticook

Priyanka Deshpande, Authenticook


But, how to scale their businesses to get there is the million dollar question? As part of the programme, and the Impact Hub offer answers through workshops with industry experts.

In order to be ready for growth, your business model and customer base must be clearly defined and tested.” - Martin Ruckensteiner

Martin Ruckensteiner on scaling

Martin Ruckensteiner on scaling

Zoom in on your customer

Because understanding your customer is the pumping heart of any successful business, we held workshops to get the entrepreneurs to dig deeper in thinking about who they’re talking to.

“Jane, a young mother of 2 who wants her kids to broaden their minds by experiencing different cultures in a safe environment. She’s my customer.” Michal –

Tourism: a force of good

Miguel and Laura (Awake) in conversation with Pepijn Rijvers (Chief Marketing Officer at

Miguel and Laura (Awake) in conversation with Pepijn Rijvers (Chief Marketing Officer at

The entrepreneurs had discussions with academics and private sector leaders to discuss how tourism can be shaped to provide a more sustainable future.

“Government bodies can come up with all the frameworks they like but ultimately it’s the private sector, such as these startups who can have impact by providing employment. Especially to groups often underemployed, like women. This can make a big difference to local communities”, said Martine Bakker, Sustainable Tourism Development Consultant.

Hans Meyer, Co-founder and Managing Director of Zoku said, “The people you employ are your business. Our business is build on the power of working with nice people, you can teach someone skills, but you can’t teach someone to be a nice person. And make sure to constantly test and evaluate your service together with your customers, complacency won’t get you anywhere.” 

‘Responsible’ travel?

But what do buzzwords such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ travel even mean? And when should they be used? Ellie Clearly, former employee turned travel blogger helped the entrepreneurs unpick these questions and make ‘responsible’ travel, more accessible.

It wasn’t all work and no play! The entrepreneurs enjoyed Amsterdam sights, tasted Dutch delights such as IJ biertjes and bitterballen too! And let’s not forget the biking of course! We put the entrepreneurs through their paces by holding a bike pitch session where each enterprise pitched their venture on a bike! All are still alive... See you next week!

Akash and Jamon, Backstreet Academy

Akash and Jamon, Backstreet Academy

Meet Sascha and Pete from Seabin Project

Meet Sascha and Pete from Seabin Project

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know what drives Sascha and Pete from The Seabin Project to keep on looking for new ways to clean up the ocean. 

The Seabin Project is a small but dynamic clean-tech startup with innovative technology for removing the plastics in our oceans.


Sascha Chapman - Project Operations Manager

“I have continued to gain knowledge and experience in a number of different fields of employment by accepting opportunities that have presented themselves over the years. This included accounting and administration through to living and working on small remote islands, this hands-on experience has provided me with the confidence, common sense and skills to accomplish whatever I put my mind to. Travel taught me to appreciate life, to accept the cards you're dealt and to not fear the unknown but rather embrace it, travel also allowed me to see first-hand the devastating impact us humans are having on what should be pristine untouched locations around the globe.
I have grown up by the sea and spent as much time as I could in the ocean, this strong connection and appreciation of the environment, has made me highly motivated and dedicated in my position within the Seabin Project and with the combination of clean-tech products, education, and research, the team is confident in having a positive impact ensuring that our planet is protected and preserved for future generations”.

Pete Ceglinski - Founder Seabin Project

“I’ve been around the ocean my entire life and enjoyed surfing exotic destinations around the globe. My background is in product design, specializing in injection moulded consumer products combined with ten years of boat building for high end yacht racing teams. My business partner and I co-founded the Seabin Project to help clean the oceans of debris and to help educate the next generation with more responsible consumer practices to decrease littering and single use plastics .
My background has proved invaluable for the development of the Seabin Project and its educational programs. Along with the development of the Seabin Project as a business, sales and marketing, I am heavily involved in the technical design and development of the products and new technologies. It's a lot of hats to wear, but as a small start up with limited finance and resources we are making it happen.
Free diving, surfing, scuba diving, stand up paddle boarding, camping, road trips, travel, photography, art and design are just some of my interests when I happen to have some spare time”


How did your Seabin Project story begin?

My business partner Andrew Turton and I worked at many marinas across the globe and saw so much plastic and other debris floating around in our beautiful oceans. We were fed up with swimming, surfing and sailing in rubbish. That's how Andrew came up with the idea of the Seabin and then we both started the Seabin Project. We tried out several versions and developed a prototype that worked. Then we quit our jobs to fully dedicate ourselves to make the Seabin a success and help clean the oceans.


What is your dream for seabin?

To further develop advanced clean tech and get off the dock and into open waters. That we can reuse the plastics we are catching in a circular economy and eradicate virgin plastics, we have so much plastics already in this world that it's time to reuse what we already have. That Seabins are no longer needed to keep our oceans clean, it may take a while but the future iis looking brighter and cleaner everyday.


What makes your product so unique?

Because it's an “upstream” approach, it's the towns and cities where the most debris enters the water bodies and ends up in the oceans, if we can stop it upstream then we can lessen the impact on our environment. There are currently no comparable technologies similar. The Seabin is easy to install, easy to use and easy to empty by one person. The Seabins are also catching microplastics down to 2mm in size plus a small percentage of oil on the water. The Seabin is designed to be used in Marinas and essentially all of us normal people are getting a free service of less plastics in the water which means a better value of life for everyone including the tourism industry. For each sale of a Seabin we have a free educational program tailored for schools and a research program so we can see the impact we are having and to learn more from the data collected globally. Our marine scientist has written and prepared a comprehensive program to be used by marinas, environmental groups and local schools and provides direct support for the education and research aspect of the Seabins.


Why is the impact you're making so important?

It's very simple really, cleaner oceans equals a better way of life for everyone. The Seabins are estimated at catching an average of 1.5 kgs of debris per day, this equates to over a half ton of plastics per year for each Seabin, multiply this figure by how many Seabins in Marinas around the world and you start to have a pretty decent impact on plastics in the ocean. The visual aspect of the Seabins is also of the utmost importance as people can really see the amount of litter in our oceans. The importance of clean oceans is of the utmost importance as it's our very source of life - “water”

Meet Cristina and Ana Carolina from Good Hotel

Meet Cristina and Ana Carolina from Good Hotel

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know how Cristina and Ana Carolina from Good Hotel offer travellers the opportunity to do good while enjoying a personal and premium hotel experience.  


Cristina Rebner - General Manager

“I studied law and business at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid but because my real passion has always been to work in the hospitality sector, I decided to do my Masters in Hospitality management. I have extended experience in sales and the organization of big events. I’ve also worked at the front desk and food & beverage team which allowed me to become experienced in running hotel operations in general. What I love most is to get the best out of each of the people we work with”.

Ana Carolina Moutella  - Revenue and Project Coordinator

“I have both the Brazilian and Italian nationality and grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where I obtained a diploma in Planning and Management of Social Projects. I have been working with Good Group since 2014 in Project Coordination, Business Development and Commercial roles. I have been lucky enough to work in Rio, Amsterdam and London Now taking up a role in the Guatemala team. It is fantastic to see all of our teams and all the colleagues from all those nationalities working for the same vision and beliefs!¨


How did your Good Hotel story begin?

Marten Dresen, CEO and founder of Good Hotel was traveling in Guatemala, when he befriended a little girl with no shoes. The pair of shoes he gave her led to the founding of Niños de Guatemala in 2006, which focused on providing education for those living in extreme poverty. Later on, he realized that education alone doesn't change that much if there is no opportunity for employment. People need jobs; business should be connected to development in those poor communities. That's when he decided to found Good Hotel Group.


What is your dream for Good Hotel?

Our stated aim is to see GOOD hospitality in every tourist destination around the world. Though that does not necessarily mean we need to have our own Good Hotels everywhere, we are planning to grow the model and operate seven Good Hotels by 2020. Meanwhile we will also establish an international Good Training Center; for training and coaching the international hotel industry towards our long-term vision, which is that all business should be social business.


What do guests experience at a Good Hotel?

Guests experience premium quality combined with a social cause, which enables them to make real human connections. We define quality not in a complicated or traditional sense. Beautiful design, which is rather clean and contemporary. Making sure it does not ¨get in the way¨ of the ability to really connect and get to know each other. We love luxury, but the new luxury is no longer about golden taps and marble floors, it is about pure designs, honest service and local collaborations.


What makes it so unique?

At the level we're operating, there is no other hotel company that is doing what we do. The social aspect is fully integrated, on all levels. Recruiting, jobs, managing, partnerships, profits, investing -- all is built to invest in our people's future and with a social mission at heart. We offer our travellers the opportunity to do good while enjoying a personal and premium hotel experience -- they have the chance to contribute & influence where their money is going and being invested into. We lead by example and established partnerships with other hotel properties where Good Hotels are located, in order to scale our model and influence as many people's lives for the better.


Tell us a bit more about the impact you make and what makes this so important?

Apart from the guests that are able to experience premium hospitality with a cause & contribute to the local community and do good while traveling, these are the users that directly benefit from our profit for non-profit hotel business model:

  1. Trainees -- long-term unemployed locals are being recruited and receive a unique Good Training, helping them move out of unemployment, invest in their training and assist in their mediation towards a permanent job in the local hotel industry. People are not recruited on their past or resumé, but on who they are and their motivation to change their future. In Amsterdam, we trained 100 unemployed per year, 60 per year in London, and in Antigua, 80+ jobs were created for local residents (excl. management and volunteers).
  2. Local communities -- local entrepreneurship and business is stimulated by partnering with small and family owned businesses from the surroundings of each Good Hotel.
  3.  NGO beneficiaries -- 450+ kids from low-income families receive quality education in Guatemala yearly.

 Meet Jamon and Akash from Backstreet Academy

Meet Jamon and Akash from Backstreet Academy

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Jamon and Akash from Backstreet Academy. Backstreet Academy is a peer-to-peer impact travel platform where impoverished local communities in developing countries who cannot speak English nor access technology are empowered to create unique travel experiences and host tourists to showcase their tradition, culture and heritage.


Jamon Mok - Co-Founder & CEO

“Ten years ago I went on a backpacking trip and felt that coming back I wanted to do something to alleviate poverty. Together with Akash I co-founded Gazaab Social Ventures to run rural business plan competitions in a bid to stimulate entrepreneurship and help communities move out of poverty through micro social venture capital. Having run over 25 such competitions and helped the creation of over 150 micro-enterprises, Backstreet Academy was founded as a more direct and scalable way to alleviate poverty through tourism & technology. Proud to say that I’m also a Tedx speaker, Lee Kuan Yew GBP Most Promising Young Entrepreneur, a speaker and panelist at numerous events as well as a Citizen Ambassador commended by the President of Singapore”.

Akash Gurung- Co-Founder & CTO

“Before I turned 11, I lived in 6 different countries which has been a remarkable experience! Each place as multicolored, multi-textured and multi-layered as another has taught me a lot about the world and my place in it. Thus, as a young boy treading out into the world, I was fortunate to be shaped by not one place or one group of people, but by many, and this has allowed me to be more perceptive about the world we live in and observe that there are more similarities between people than there are differences!  
Also, early on in my childhood, since I held my first Nintendo Gameboy, I have been a keen observer of technology and its impact on the world. Growing up however, the single most defining feature of technology that has stood out is the fact that it is scalable, and thus its ability to impact the world and not be limited by boundaries. And somewhere in between visiting narrow alleyways in the slums of Asia to even narrower lines of code, I decided that if there were ever a tool to combat the world’s poverty, it was going to be with the help of technology. And I find Elon Musk to be an absolute badass!”


How did your Backstreet Academy story begin?

While thinking of new business models, we were talking to one of our beneficiaries of a micro fund we were running,  who is a poor wood carver. We asked him many questions about his craft and background and he immediately offered us a crash course on the spot! We then spent the next 5 hours covered in wood shavings, learning from the master. That was a fantastic experience for us and we could only wish travel can be so intimate, offbeat and amazing everywhere we went with such genuine hospitality. The craftsman also benefited immensely from the fees they could earn from teaching tourists as well as increased sales from selling their products. More people could learn about their craft and thus preserve the traditional cultural heritage in the world. That gave us the inspiration to start Backstreet Academy where we can focus on creating micro-entrepreneurs in tourism and have a much more scalable and direct impact on communities.


What is one of your favourite experiences people can book on your platform now? Why?

Our favorite is fishing on the Mekong with local fishermen. The family is very hospitable and welcoming to open up their house-boat for fishing trips. Going out with the family, including three of their children is a great experience. They will share their tales of bad weather, good catches and times when their children would fall into the river at night. Their cooking is fabulous as well. After fishing, the host would cook from a wok underneath the floorboard of the little boat and serve up a delicious meal with the fresh catch. It's just amazing!


What makes Backstreet Academy so unique?

Backstreet Academy is unique due to our technology and our focus on communities. Our technology is built specifically for Bottom-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) communities who cannot speak English nor access smartphones. Online bookings from tourists are automatically translated into local language SMSes or automated calls with 2-way input to allow hosts to handle their own bookings. Secondly, to bridge the language barrier on the experience, we also deploy a hyper-local on-demand community translator system to allow local students from English schools, tourism colleges and orphanages to be matched to a job, allowing them to practice English, earn additional income, gain exposure to the outside world and practical experience in the tourism industry.

Next to the technology, we work very closely with local communities to ensure we showcase the tradition, skills and heritage in the best way possible. We provide trainings and even awards for our host communities to improve their service level, motivation and hospitality.


What is your dream for Backstreet Academy?

We believe that people shouldn't be disadvantaged by where they are born and hope that by providing Backstreet Academy's service to people left behind by globalization we can level the playing field a little and enable everyone to make a living doing what they love.


Tell us a bit more about the impact you make and why is it so important?

We have helped over 600 individuals to become micro-entrepreneurs in tourism, gain additional income to move out of poverty and improve their quality of life through the Backstreet Academy platform. We have collectively generated more than $200,000 in additional income for our beneficiaries and helped to make hundreds of traditions and skills much more visible, understood and accessible to travelers than ever before.

Our three key impact areas are:

  1. Poverty Alleviation - Create micro-entrepreneurs (as BA hosts) in tourism, provide training and a platform for them to sustainably earn a living from it, increase their income 2-3 times, subsequently moving them out of poverty.
  2. Quality of Life - Increase appreciation and respect for their tradition, culture and crafts, thereby helping them raise their quality of life as well as both tourists and people in the community see them as masters rather than just production line workers.
  3. Preserving Intangible Cultural Heritage - Preserve and keep alive traditions, crafts and intangible cultural heritage of our world by allowing travelers to experience it first-hand, be awed by it and generate interest in it. The younger generation will also be more inclined to consider taking up the skill and not let it die out.


Meet Michal and Dana from

Meet Michal and Dana from

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Michal and Dana from VISIT.ORG is the world's leading platform for social impact travel experiences. 100% of hosts' revenue is invested back into the local community.


Michal Alter - Founder

“I have been working in technology and social development for over 15 years. In 2015 I founded VISIT.ORG, combining my love for technology with my dedication to social development. As one of the first female pilot cadets in the Israeli Air Force and a computer science engineer, I’ve worked as Systems Architect at Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN) and at Risk Modules, both part of the thriving Israeli high-tech industry. My passion for social development began as the Director of Refugee Affairs at the city government in Tel Aviv, where I led social service delivery and programming to serve 20,000 refugees from Darfur, South Sudan, and Eritrea. After moving to New York, I consulted at various leading nonprofit organizations, including New York Cares, Solar One, UNESCO, and Women’s World Banking”.

Michal holds a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University, a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies from Tel Aviv University, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion).


 Dana Mazia Weinbum - Head of Business Development

"My experience combines law, strategy, and business development with a strong social impact background. I have crafted strategies and narratives for several tech companies, served as the Executive Manager of "Tzemach," an NGO promoting social involvement among youth, and was a consultant on a number of big government projects.

I was born and raised in Israel, where I served in the Israel Defense Force as a training course officer. I am a member of the Global Shapers of World Economic Forum and a volunteer at the "Memories@Home" Holocaust Memorial Project as well as at TOM, a global movement of communities creating affordable solutions to everyday challenges facing people with disabilities".

Dana holds a B.A. in business and an LLB and LLM in business law from the Interdisciplinary Center.


How did your story begin?

When Michal's' first child was born, her refugee friends from the nonprofit where she worked and her friends from elsewhere met for the first time when they came to her apartment with baby gifts. They were neighbors but had never had a genuine, relaxed human interaction until that day. It was a very powerful encounter. Michal created to allow these interactions to happen much more frequently.


What is one of your favorite experiences people can book with

One of my more recent memorable experiences has been our visit to Al Hagal, an Israeli social enterprise that leads year-long youth empowerment programs through surfing to underserved youth from around the country. I participated in a half day activity with the organization, taking my first wave surfing lesson ever.


What is your dream for

Our dream is to make social impact travel experiences so accessible and easily bookable that within 10 years from now, each and every travel itinerary will include at least one half-day immersive, impactful experience.


What makes so unique?

Although the travel industry is trending towards offering more experiential and interactive activities with local exposure, no other travel platform at scale focuses solely on social enterprises as suppliers or on short-term tours that channel funds back to local populations.


What is your impact on the world? 

By opening the doors of nonprofits and social ventures to millions of travelers from around the world we:

1. Stimulate economic development: Visits provide organizations with additional revenue that is invested directly back into the community.

2. Enhance the missions of great social organizations.

3. Promote public education.

Since Oct. 2015 we’ve helped 500 social ventures package a new, streamlined travel product that is offered regularly, generating funds and awareness for their causes.

Our impact goals include public education, enhancing the missions of impactful organizations, and economic development.

Meet Ameya and Priyanka from Authenticook in India

Meet Ameya and Priyanka from Authenticook in India

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Ameya and Priyanka from Authenticook in India. Authenticook is an opportunity for travelers and locals alike, to experience a place one meal at a time through social dining experiences.


Ameya Deshpande  - Co-founder

"I was previously an Investment Banker with Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas. I love to travel and I am someone who prefers the rustic to the fancy. I am very structured in my approach, which has led Authenticook to create seamless processes for operations. I bring in financial and strategic acumen which has led our business to be an operationally profitable company from day 1. Apart from my two big passions travel and food, I am also a big wildlife enthusiast and take great pride in having visited almost all the tiger reserves of Central India".

Priyanka Deshpande - Co-founder

"I was previously with ICICI Bank as a Corporate Banker, working for large Indian corporates. I love to explore different places and interact with locals to understand their culture and perspective on life.  At Authenticook, I am responsible for marketing and partnerships. I am very result-oriented in my approach, a perfectionist and I am able to empathize with the needs of our audience. This has helped Authenticook rationalize decisions, enter new partnerships and create campaigns with high impact".


How did your Authenticook story begin?

It all started on our trip to the Ladakh region, in the beautiful Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. While we were in the capital city of Leh, we realised that most of the restaurants there were serving pastas, pizzas and burgers and there was absolutely no avenue to try out the local food of the region. This got us thinking; "What if we had an opportunity to sit with a local over a meal; it could have been the simplest of meals, but there would have been so much that we would have understood about the local way of life, their culture and traditions. This would have made our trip even more enriching".We believe that food is a religion that transcends boundaries, regions and prejudices.


What makes Authenticook unique?

India has 29 different states, we have 1652 dialects and more than 300 estimated cuisines! We are providing an avenue to experience this diversity through an asset light model whereby each participant, whether host or diner can participate through minimal or no investment thereby making it a universal concept.


What is one of your favourite food experiences people can book?

One of our personal favourites is the Bohri Thaal experience. It represents a true community dining experience where 7 to 8 people sit around a large, round platter known as the thaal. The platter is kept on a stand known as a tarakti. As a sign of respect for the food being served, the thaal (round platter) is kept on the stand only once everyone is seated. No one leaves the thaal till everyone is done with their meal. One of the reasons for eating from the same platter is to ensure no wastage of food. In addition, the meal starts with salt being offered by the youngest member  to the eldest member and is then passed around; it is believed that starting and ending the meal with salt keeps a number of illnesses at bay. The Bohri community loves their food and has various mouth-watering dishes. These are unique experiences which you cannot get at any restaurant.


What is your dream for Authenticook?

Our dream is to impact more than one million women, empower them by generating their own income while sharing their stories and beautiful cooking with the world.

We want to be the first port of call for travellers and locals alike for enriching, social dining experiences. Our dream for Authenticook is that we are recognised for having played a significant role in making people all over the world connect and become more patient, respectful and appreciative of each other's’ cultural differences.

Meet William and Alexei from Desolenator

Meet William and Alexei from Desolenator

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to William and Alexei from Desolenator who make our oceans drinkable, using only the power of the sun.

William Janssen - CEO

“I have over 25 years of experience in business development and project management with extensive international experience. My key expertise areas range from sales and marketing, through project management into business development and product development. I had been working in Asia and the Middle East for the past 20 years on infrastructure projects and was working in Abu Dhabi for a Dutch interior fit-pout company, when I had this eureka moment and have since focused on making Desolenator a success.”

Alexei Levene - Co-founder and Interim Chair

"At base it’s important to have a vision that is inspiring, that motivates people and that is inherently around the net benefit of beings on this planet. Early on in my career I helped to establish Unfrozenmind, an award winning strategy-boutique company based in Paris. Bridging Eastern and Western psychology, Virtual Worlds, Leadership and organisational design for many organisations around the world.

I was an early supporter of Abundance, an FCA regulated crowdfunding platform in the UK that enables people to invest directly into renewable energy projects. My heart has always been in India and wanting to give back I spent a year working with a Kerala based NGO named Kanthari. I've supported them with curriculum development, rebranding and I worked with 18 aspirational social entrepreneurs to help them find social enterprises in their respective companies. After co-founding social enterprise ixSpark I met William and started to help him set up Desolenator."

How did your Desolenator story begin?

Alexei: “Two-third of our planet is covered with water yet we are facing a global water crisis. William was introduced to me via a mutual friend Arnoud who saw that I was engaged in clean energy product development over Facebook, whilst in India. We had a video skype call where William explained the concept of Desolenator and I talked about my work in India. Something clicked and soon William was on a plane to India! We spent a week together and between mapping out the project we quickly liked each other, shared several beers looking out over the fantastic Keralan sunsets and by the end of the trip had a plan to get started. From there we started to prototype Desolenator and we were supported by a local University who sent across 6 engineering students to support the initial research”.


What is your dream for Desolenator?

That Desolenator products play a significant role in addressing the global water crisis.


What makes your product so unique?

Desolenator can purify water from any source using only solar power. Household Purifiers (i.e ‘Pureit’, ‘Aquaguard’) are grid dependent and cannot handle saline or seawater. They will also usually not remove arsenic, nitrate or fluoride contamination. Solar desalination units (PV-RO, solar stills, Watly) are either too costly ($30,000+) or have very small yields (3 Litres per day). Multi-stage flash desalination (MFSD) & Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants currently consume 0.7% of global energy supply and have huge upfront infrastructure costs. Water trucks have a significant cost in terms of energy consumption (carbon footprint), environmental impact and end user pricing, as well as unreliable water quality and an intermittent delivery schedule. Bottled Water is expensive and the plastic has devastating environmental impact. This is an arena in desperate need of innovation. We believe that Desolenator can provide a sustainable alternative that benefits both people and planet.


Tell us a bit more about the impact you make and why is it so important?

Fresh water is the biggest resource crisis we are facing, tomorrow's problems are at our doorstep today. Our goal is to help combat this crisis with clean innovative technology. We hope to provide a sustainable alternative to water production for island hotels.

We want to help travellers enjoy their stay in new and exciting destinations, but for them to leave it ready for the next visitors. The average consumption of plastic bottles for a single resort in the Maldives is around 420,000 bottles a year, and much of this plastic ends up in oceans, damaging ecosystems. Can you imagine breaking the cycle of disposable materials, by staying in hotels, communities and homestays with a sustainable water solution? Our technology can provide the means, but we need other people to play their parts and travel responsibly. We are so excited to work with to help bring the water crisis into the tourism conscience.


What do you want to tell people that are booking their next trip?

Be conscious, be aware. Support hotels that are trying to do good - you are part of the solution too!

Meet Pai and Mae from Local Alike

Meet Pai and Mae from Local Alike

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Pai and Mae from Local Alike. Local Alike is a social enterprise building an online platform to connect travellers and locals through meaningful experiences.


Somsak “Pai” Boonkam, - Founder and CEO

“I was born and raised in rural Thailand where I developed a deep appreciation for the ingenuity of indigenous culture and the role of sustainable development. After graduating from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco with an MBA in Sustainability Management I decided that my goal is to bring the wisdom of indigenous people to the market in order to develop sustainable products or services that have a positive impact on the society. After working for the Mae Fah Luang Foundation Under Royal Patronage, where I was responsible with business development for Northern Thai communities, I started my own social enterprise, Local Alike”.

Sirasar “Mae” Boonma - Service designer and project manager

PR_Local alike_Head shot Mae.JPG
“I have always been  interested in creating experiences and engagement for audiences through a variety of media. Now, my expertise lies in developing travelling experiences with Thai local communities through human-centered social design, as I believe that these methods are one of the essential ways to create meaningful experiences that reach beyond the traveler's’ expectation, as well as develop and create sustainable products that have a positive impact on society.

In 2015, I graduated from the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, Goldsmiths, University of London.  Before that, I worked for five years as a project manager in Events and Exhibition department at Thailand Creative and Design Center, an organisation run by the government to promote Creative industries and stimulate the creative economy”.


How did your Local Alike story begin?

Local Alike started because we wanted to solve three major problems related to tourism in Thailand;

  1. Thailand generates around 6 billion Thai Baht per year from tourism. This is a huge economic opportunity. Yet, the income mainly disperses around urban areas in favour of large enterprises, big hotel chains and large travel agencies, and only a handful of local people get to benefit. We would like to help distribute at least 10% of this huge income to local communities.
  2. While general mass tourism may create jobs and income for locals, the majority of the industry does not answer to the actual need of sustainable development. There are many examples where mass tourism has been and will continue to be damaging to the local communities environmentally and socially. Local Alike would like to showcase of how sustainable tourism in the region could and should actually be.
  3. There are 200 established community based tourism (CBT) villages in Thailand. They lack a reliable channel or platform that will connect them directly to potential customers. Local Alike’s platform is dedicated to fill this gap.


What is your dream for Local Alike?

Our dream is to see communities that we work with operate their community tourism sustainably in the long run. We also would like to showcase of how sustainable tourism could and should be treated in our region.


What is one of your favourite experiences people can book on your platform now? Why?

They are all our favourite :) But to give one example, one of the  "A day as .." collection. For instance, A Day As a Fisherman in Bangkok. Joining locals on their boat, our guests learn and feel how it is to life like a fisherman and a coastal farmer in just one day. You cruise on the boat heading to the sea, learn how to pick cockles, enjoy seafood for lunch, and design your own scarf or shirt with a tie-and-dyed workshop.


Tell us a bit more about the impact you make and why is it so important?

We have been working with 70 local community partners. We generated more than 15 million Thai Baht to these villages, which resulted in an annual increase of their income by 15%. This increase can help villagers to send their kids to high school or as an investment for the next crop season, instead of taking a loan. We’ve also created at least 500 part-time jobs throughout Thailand and implemented 12 social projects using our contributed funds to solve local issues such as waste management and poor local infrastructure.

In 10 years, we want to be the leading tourism social enterprise that truly showcases how sustainable tourism should be treated in the ASEAN region by using our impact modules. 


Impact modules?

Local Alike is working on five modules, called “Local Alike’s 5 impact modules”. First, building and developing communities under the idea of Community-Based Tourism. We build 13 workshops such as entrepreneurial models, financial and team management, and etc. to prepare and strengthen our partner villages. We also work with enterprises in helping them develop projects based on tourism community development.

Second and Third modules based on creating and developing inventive travelling programs that match with customers’ needs. For example, we help enterprises extend their CSR and employee programs into local Thai villages. They can travel to our partner villages or simply get to know the locals and participate in team building activities.

The fourth one is an online marketplace ( It is aimed to connect travellers around to world to be able to book activities, tours, homestay listed by locals themselves as well as our curated programs. For example, we launched Joined tour. Each tour has a fixed day so travellers will find easier way to travel in Thailand also they will get to know local people and making new friends. Thus, communities will get fixed income.

The last one is Local Alike Development Fund. It is an essential tool to support and improve quality of life for each community we work with. For instance, a waste management processes, playgrounds, museum foundations, and more. We are doing this by taking five percent of our profits and taking a part of locals’ revenue to put into this fund.


 Meet Mark and Derk from

Meet Mark and Derk from

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Mark and Derk from help people volunteer their real skills around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programs.


Mark Horoszowski - Co-founder and CEO

“In addition to leading MovingWorlds, I’m a contributor to HuffPost, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and more on the topic of “Experteering”: The global movement addressing the talent gap that MovingWorlds has founded. I also have the honor of serving as Adjunct Faculty at University of Washington Tacoma's Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility. In my free time, I love spending time with my wife, go skiing, and volunteering with the American Cancer Society”.

Derk Norde - Co-founder and Chief Impact Officer

“In 1999 I co-founded Roomforoom, the first European community for international home exchanges. In 2003 I co-founded the BiD Network Foundation and later went on to lead its global expansion across 20 countries.. Realizing that besides access to finance, the 'global talent gap' is a major barrier to progress for many social enterprises, in 2011 Mark and I decided to start MovingWorlds. I am based in Medellin Colombia where I lead our LatAm office”.

How did your MovingWorlds story begin?

In 2011, Mark Horoszowski spent a year traveling and volunteering his skills around the world. He kept a blog to share insights, which resulted in an organic following. In the final two months of his trip he met Derk Norde and they immediately connected over their desire to support social enterprises by helping them access expertise to solve pressing challenges and upskill their teams. After 2 years of validating that skilled volunteers from overseas actually help, they launched the MovingWorlds platform and coined the term “Experteering”.


What is your dream for MovingWorlds?

Our dream is to create a global movement of people using their time and talents for good, and being rewarded for doing so. We call it Experteering, and we envision a world where it is a part of everyday life and that corporations and education institutions will use it as as a way to help develop their people while contributing to the greater good. This is the essence of the MovingWorlds brand: when you create positive change, you are changed for the better.  


What kind of great programs is MovingWorlds running at the moment?

We have two really exciting programs right now. One is the MovingWorlds Institute which helps people transition to social good careers by building their global experience. Another is our program with the Siemens Stiftung Empowering People Network - an “impact investor” that aims to make promising low-tech solutions accessible and further their successful implementation on the basis of sustainable entrepreneurship models. This “Expert” program sponsors the travel, living, and MovingWorlds membership costs for selected professionals!


What makes MovingWorlds so unique?

In the same way that Airbnb has made staying in a stranger’s home a safe and more enriching travel experience, MovingWorlds has popularized a movement of connecting professionals  to volunteer their skills directly with changemakers in the field, making more authentic and impactful experiences. While we use technology to do it in a scalable way that ensures safety and increases quality, we also add a personal touch. Much more than a matching site, we actually guide people through a planning process  and train them on best practices. Lastly, our long-term focus on creating a sustainable impact ensures that all parties truly benefit: we measure success as something that happens a year after Experteering projects end.


Why is the impact you're making so important?

A lack of access to talent is one of the leading barriers to progress. By promoting the transfer of skills in our Experteering network, we're helping empower local change organizations for the long term—and broadening the skills and experience of our Experteers in the process.

We help social enterprises around the world access expertise to overcome business, creative, and technical challenges, while upskilling their teams in the process. Our data shows that our hosting organizations (1) accelerate their progress, (2) improve their operations, (3) refine their growth strategies, and also (4) benefit by tapping into global networks. Importantly, as we send Experteers to the most under-resourced areas around the globe — over 60 countries to date — we help build the local capacity of these social enterprises helping them prosper in the long-term.


Meet Miguel and Laura from Awake in Colombia

Meet Miguel and Laura from Awake in Colombia

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Miquel and Laura from Awake in Colombia. Awake is connecting travellers and locals, in nature and rural destinations, to protect biodiversity

Miguel Torres Uribe - CEO

“I've been travelling around Colombia for 13 years and have had the chance to really connect with local communities in rural areas all over the country. This made me understand more and more about the harsh reality of our armed conflict, inequality and environmental deterioration. I’m trying to use my background in industrial engineering and business administration to make the most positive impact as possible to conserve these beautiful ecosystems and make local communities thrive at the same time."


Laura Romero Alzate - Head of Local Host Development & Product

Laura Head shot.jpg
"I am a traveler, an entrepreneur for passion, a retired lawyer, totally in love with nature and the local communities living there. I believe in the power of sustainable tourism and I have an obsession with finding solutions for waste problems. After setting up Awake’s sales, customer service and operation processes I was ready to fully focus on the product and align this with the needs and desires of our local hosts."


How did your Awake story begin?  

In 2008 we went on a trekking and kayaking expedition through the Magdalena River and this changed our lives forever. We discovered beautiful rich biodiversity and astonishing landscapes. But at the same time we faced the harsh economic conditions for locals to make it through the day and provide for their families.

We felt there was a great opportunity to connect what the local communities had to offer with the need for unique nature experiences in Colombia. And so it begun, we started a kayaking tour operator company offering different journeys through the rivers of Colombia.

A few years later we changed the kayaking company into the nature travel agency, as it is known today, Awake.


What is one of your favourite nature experiences people can book at Awake?

Easy! Jungle trekking, community visits and whale watching in the Chocó (Pacific Coast). This experience is a perfect reflection of what we are all about. You visit several reserves and protected areas operated by locals; you see turtles´ conservation projects and support them with your visit; hike in the jungle with a former hunter while you enjoy one of the richest biodiversity hotspot on this planet. Chocó is not only unique because of its incredible biodiversity but also for the amazing cultural heritage, which can be experienced through food, dance, music, flow and joy. Your local hosts (Francisco, Gentil, Rosita, Antonio -”Toño”, David and others) make sure that you have an amazing time taking it all in in its full essence. It’s truly amazing!


What is your dream for Awake?

We want to be the key marketplace to buy and sell nature tourism experiences all over the world. We dream to have presence in every nature destination of the world, where rural communities live in harmony with nature and strive access to sustainable livelihood opportunities.

We want to generate and connect a global community of travelers and hosts who help to conserve the 36 biodiversity global hotspots and other nature destinations in the world.  A global community that  uses ecotourism as a tool to protect ecosystems and biodiversity while improving the wellbeing of millions of people in rural places.

We want to be a leading example for ecotourism in the world, where the commercialization of experiences in nature is only possible if it benefits the local communities and creates incentives to protect ecosystems

 Meet Scott and Aziz from MEJDI Tours

Meet Scott and Aziz from MEJDI Tours

Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Scott and Aziz from MEJDI Tours. MEJDI Tours was founded by these two friends, one Jewish and one Palestinian. MEJDI’s mission is to utilize the power of travel to build intercultural understanding through socially conscious, customized tours in destinations around the world.  By utilizing their unique, multi-narrative guiding approach, they leave travellers with a much deeper understanding of the regions they visit and the people that they meet.

Scott Cooper - Co-CEO

“I focus on strategy, operations and company culture. I previously worked at the United States Institute of Peace on a project focused on evaluating peace-building programs in conflict zones, and have advised numerous NGOs on sustainable models for organizational growth. In a previous life, I waited thousands of tables and then worked in a retail bank until a life changing trip led me to abruptly quit to pursue my passion. I hold a degree in political science from Arizona State University and a Master of Science degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University. I try not to take life too seriously, and love watching stand-up comedy, playing ice hockey and engaging in ‘intense’ ping pong matches at the MEJDI office.”

Aziz Abu Sarah - Co-CEO

“Growing up in Jerusalem, I always loved meeting new people and exploring different cultures—to the extent I fell in love with country western music! Although my fellow Arabs thought I was a bit odd for my cowboy hat and boot collection, my passion for exploring human difference has grown into an exciting career as a National Geographic Explorer, Cultural Educator, and TED Fellow. Always looking for new ways to promote intercultural understanding, I’ve further explored ways to carry my passion for people into the business sphere. The result has been a rewarding career of over 15 years in the tourism industry (you can see my TED Talk about redefining tourism here) and several awards for my work, including the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East from the Institute of International Education, the European Parliament’s Silver Rose Award, the Eisenhower Medallion, and the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Middle Eastern Journalism.”

How did your MEJDI story begin?  

In 2009 Aziz (Palestinian) and Scott (Jewish) were leading projects bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. We realized that non-profit work was often unsustainable and unscalable so we decided to get creative and look to business models to scale our impact. We chose tourism for its reach, and tested the idea in Jerusalem where most tours were polarizing groups against one side or the other. To solve the problem, we began offering tours with Israeli and Palestinian guides leading tours together, showcasing not just issues but also individual experiences, stories and reasons for hope. In order to create global impact, we expanded the model to over a dozen other destinations in a culturally relevant way.


What is your favourite trip people can book with MEJDI tours?

One of our new innovative programs is in Bosnia/Croatia where we explore different narratives and historical aspects. This is quickly becoming our favorite trip because in one tour a traveler experiences history, culture, dramatic landscapes and access to lesser known communities.

A sample itinerary MEJDI Tour to Bosnia/Croatia may include:

  • An interfaith conversation in Mostar with a Christian and Muslim family, once divided by the war.
  • A tour with a former general who now runs an educational NGO.
  • Photography lessons as you capture the historical sites and local faces of Dubrovnik.
  • Boating through Mostar along the Neretva River, stopping for a picnic near a historical Sufi home.

Led and co-designed by the famous, Bosnian photojournalist, Ziya Gafic, a MEJDI Tour to Bosnia/Croatia is all about meeting the most interesting people, leading the most innovative movements.


What is your dream for MEJDI?

We’re on a mission to be the leading socially conscious travel company in the world. The goal we’re currently tackling is becoming the leader in the affinity group travel space and soon it will be FIT.  Our dream is to change the travel industry from a consumption model to a conscious model. In the same way that organic produce, fair trade coffee, and renewable energy have become more mainstream, our vision is for socially conscious travel to be the norm and for all travel companies to invest locally as they lead global operations.

We believe that as Ibn Batuta said “Travel makes you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” and because no country is homogenous, our model focuses on bringing the diversity of each location we visit to the forefront of the trip.


What is your impact on the world? And why is that so important?

MEJDI’s social impact focuses on challenging stereotypes, encouraging independent thinking and bringing together religious, political, and ethnic groups that would not interact, all the while supporting local communities. We take social issues such as inter-communal conflict, environmental degradation, and the impact of consumer industries like tourism, and provide a sustainable solution through social enterprise. We also have a distinctive drive to build and operate inclusively. We seek to connect travellers with local communities, and remedy the socio-economic gap that exists in many tourism destinations. Since we began leading tours, over 15,000 people have taken a MEJDI trip and we know they go home, telling their friends and families about their local experience as they traveled across the world. We build local relationships in every city in which we operate. Our goal is to spur local economies as we travel, using our dollars as a “conscious brand” to invest into communities.

The 10 Startups that will join our Booking Booster Programme in June

The 10 Startups that will join our Booking Booster Programme in June

Today we are announcing the 10 startups that will join our first cohort of the Booster. The goal of the programme is to identify, mentor and fund enterprising startups from around the world that are seeking to have a positive impact on the global tourism industry.

Nearly 700 startups with teams from 102 nationalities applied to join the programme, with the United States, India, the Netherlands, Russia and Italy topping the list for the highest numbers of applicants.

The 10 selected ventures will participate in a 3-week programme in June 2017 in Amsterdam that culminates with a chance to pitch to a panel of and industry experts for grants of up to €500,000 from

“We are so impressed with the amazing diversity and quality of applications that we received for the Booster Programme. The incredible passion and genuinely innovative business concepts we saw from startups from practically every corner of the globe was truly inspiring,” said Gillian Tans, CEO of “I can’t wait to get to know these 10 startups better and see how we can help them to accelerate their growth plans in order to bring their vision for sustainable tourism to even more destinations around the world.”

The 10 sustainable travel startups that will be joining Booster in June 2017 are:


"Authenticook is an opportunity for travelers and locals alike, to experience a place one meal at a time. We provide authentic culinary experiences (ranging from a full course meal to cooking classes) at the homes of locals, thereby providing an avenue to people to experience and understand the local culture through the medium of food! Our aim is to provide an avenue where locals can create awareness about their culture and generate income in the comforts of their home. We at Authenticook, believe that food is a religion that transcends boundaries, regions and prejudices. We are today living in a world where people are highly disconnected whether it relates to the cultures, traditions or just merely perceptions. Authenticook is an avenue to bring people closer through the common love of food." - Ameya Deshpande, Co-Founder

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"Our theory of change is that we generate local incentives to protect biodiversity by connecting and strengthening local hosts in nature destinations, increasing their income and livelihood opportunities.

We work in two main areas: On one hand, we are a nature travel and experiences marketplace; we directly and efficiently connect travelers with local hosts, at a very low cost while guaranteeing the best offer, great support and service, easy planning, booking, access to other travelers’ reviews, and the best possible price. At the same time, we are a community sustainable development agency; we contribute to closing the gap between market needs and the local offer. In order to do this, we execute destinations’ development programs with partners (government, NGO’s, multilaterals, companies); accompanying hosts and communities in the process of designing products; we help them improve their experiences and services; provide access to great digital content for promotion, among others." - Miguel Torres Uribe, Co-Founder and CEO

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Backstreet Academy 

"Backstreet Academy is a peer-to-peer impact travel platform where we empower impoverished local communities in developing countries who cannot speak English nor access technology to create unique travel experiences, host tourists and showcase their tradition, culture and heritage.

By doing so, they can increase their income 2-3 times, gain respect for being seen as masters of their craft and preserve the intangible cultural heritage of our world.

We do this through our Bottom-of-Pyramid (BOP) technology where hosts are able to receive booking information using feature phones via local language SMS (text messages) or automated calls with 2-way input. A hyper-local on-demand community translator system is set up to match a translator to every booking, ensuring smooth communication with guests while retaining the authenticity of the experience.

We currently offer over 1,200 experiences on our platform in over 10 countries." - Jamon Mok, Co-Founder

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"Desolenator is a clean off-grid technology that can purify any water – seawater or contaminated sources – into clean drinking water using solar power.

The UN estimates that by 2030, half of the world will not have access to clean water.98% of our water resides in our seas but is saline and unfit for consumption. If we are to support our growing global community, we must start desalinating. Most importantly, we must do so in a manner that is sustainable, affordable and accessible for everyone.

The Desolenator unit is 100% run on solar power and does not use consumables such as filters, membranes or pre-treatment chemicals. Each unit produces up to 20L/day and can be scaled in a modular fashion providing water independence to a family or several households. A community sized model which will deliver 1000L/day is currently under development.

Desolenator has the potential to transform the lives of millions. Contaminated water sources can be purified, coastal towns and island nations can turn the surrounding sea into a limitless supply of fresh water and communities can become water independent." - Alexei Levene, Co-Founder

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Good Hotel 

"Good Hotel Group is a profit for non-profit organization that combines doing good with doing business and premium experiences. We re-invest all profits in business and education, and as a result, stimulate local entrepreneurship and development. Good Hotels are located in destinations where touristic demand meets the opportunity for development. We offer travellers to do good, connect and contribute to their travel destination. A whole new level of immersion in the premium travel industry. The hotel groups’ mission is to redefine the model of how business is done – combining doing business with doing good – with a best in class guest experience at the core. An inspiring company that is characterized by an entrepreneurial spirit, and the belief that one day, all business should be sustainable and give back to the communities they are in.

Good Hotel focuses on creating permanent change and impact by investing in the training of local unemployed. In addition to decreasing the community’s unemployment rate, the group’s customary Good Training program fuels the local hospitality industry with great hospitality staff, focusing on delivering genuine service." - Cristina Rebner, General Manager of Good Hotel Antigua

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Local Alike 

"Local Alike believes in traveling the right way. We inspire every traveler to be a change-maker by helping us transform tourism into a powerful development tool. We work hand-in-hand with the locals to build their capacity and to curate a genuine and meaningful experience for travelers and locals alike. We also set up community based tourism fund to help improve the quality of life for each community we work with.

Local Alike exists as two business entities. Local Alike Travel is a tour company that operates community-based tourism tours in Thailand and soon across Southeast Asia. Local is the technology arm that is a sustainable tourism online marketplace where travellers around the world can find local and authentic experiences.

After 4 years in the business, we succeeded in developing 70 communities in Thailand and this year we are expanding into communities in Vietnam and India. What makes us unique is we establish long-term partnerships with local communities. We bring in more income and educate them to optimize resources from tourism to further develop their societies. We encourage them to fix community issues from the root cause." - Somsak Boonkam, Founder and CEO

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MEJDI Tours 

"MEJDI is on a mission to bring socially conscious travel to the masses! Originally founded in Israel and Palestine, MEJDI pioneered an industry first, two-guide, multi-narrative tour.  The model brings together divergent local communities to provide travelers with different religious, political, and cultural perspectives.  For example, in Israel and Palestine, groups travel with one Israeli and one Palestinian guide, in N. Ireland - groups have Catholic and Protestant guides. MEJDI has since expanded, and now offers programs across the globe with the goal of promoting intercultural understanding, social transformation, and positive engagement with local communities. This model can be applied everywhere - Japan, Vietnam, Cuba, Oman - people from different aspects of society are given the space to tell their stories, showcase their work, and build new networks. The result is a type of tourism that is purposeful, that honors and respects both the traveler and the destination, and ultimately will redefine responsible travel!" - Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-CEO

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"MovingWorlds exists to get expertise to the parts of the world that need it most. We help professionals volunteer their real skills - go Experteering - with social impact organizations overseas; on their own, or through corporate-sponsored programs. Our matching platform, resources, and global support team helps people find a highly relevant project, and then guides them through a comprehensive readiness and training process so that they make a real impact in the field. One of the leading barriers to progress in emerging markets is a lack of access to talent, so when people go Experteering, they help build the capacity of social impact organizations by giving what they’re good at. All projects focus on transfer of knowledge to local workes in addition to other goals of solving a technical, business, or creative challenge; training team members; making connections to global networks; and/or improving operations and strategy." - Mark Horoszowski, CEO

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"The Seabin is an automated marina rubbish bin that collects floating rubbish, debris and oil 24/7. Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin. Water is then pumped back into the marina, trapping litter and debris in the catch bag. The Seabin has the option to use alternative power such as wind, wave or solar as a source.

We started with this because we were fed up with swimming, surfing and sailing in rubbish. The Seabin cleans the oceans one marina at a time: improving people’s time at marinas, beaches and in the water. The Seabin however, is only one small part of a larger solution in the battle against global oceanic littering. The real solution is awareness. That’s why we also implement educational programmes and beach clean-ups with our customers and neighbourhoods, to increase our impact." - Pete Ceglinski, Co-Founder

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"Based in NYC and founded in 2015, is the world's leading platform for social impact travel experiences. 100% of hosts' revenue is invested back into the local community.

What makes unique is that all of its providers are nonprofits and other types of social impact organizations. From a coffee making day with a local farmer cooperative in Guatemala to a half-day traditional cooking workshop with immigrant women in NYC, travelers can add an immersive, impactful travel experience to their itinerary, selecting from over 600 unique travel experiences in 65 countries.

The platform’s technology enables social ventures to create and market mainstream tourism products, lessening their dependency on donations. A network of 200 Ambassadors around the globe identifies, vet, and onboard new partner providers, and helps them with professional visuals, videos, and storytelling. It is free to build and automatically distribute on the global platform reaching millions of people. invites you to Meet The World In Person." - Michal Altar, Co-Founder and CEO  

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We'll be sharing the stories of these startups on our blog over the coming weeks, leading up to the programme in June.