A Platform to Find Your Next Clean Travel Adventure

A Platform to Find Your Next Clean Travel Adventure

A brand new social enterprise and another participant in next month’s Barcelona Booster Lab, Clean Travel, seeks to connect travelers to a cleaner, more sustainable, and local friendly market by guiding them to the many sustainable travel activities, tours, and experiences on their online marketplace. Having only launched last month and been founded a few months prior, Clean Travel has already gained impressive traction in social media, accelerator programs, and the sustainable travel community.

Mac, the co-founder, CEO, and seasoned entrepreneur, shared some insight to what led him to start Clean Travel and his greater goals for the company. Read his responses below:

 

What triggered you to start Clean Travel earlier this year?

I’ve seen the positive impact that ethical tourism can have on a disadvantaged community first hand. Five years ago I founded a social enterprise called Umbrella Trekking that offers tours in Nepal. Profits go to our partner charity, and we train former victims of trafficking as tour guides. Customers not only loved our tours but also loved what we were about and the idea that they could contribute to something larger.

Although we had great reviews and many recommendations, we struggled to reach an audience beyond our charity affiliation. We invested in setting up a user-friendly website, but it received minimal traffic.  Online searches of Nepal trips usually result in a blanket of paid advertisements that convince travelers that the multinational companies are the only way to go. These organisations dominate the online sales channels because of their huge financial resources and lead to a perceived lack of choice for travelers, especially those heading to the developing world.

With a little bit of research, I discovered that we were not unique; there are a lot of travel companies who exist to empower developing communities. They are doing amazing work throughout the world, but like Umbrella Trekking, are missing appropriate channels for them to highlight their tours.

This lead me to the realisation that rather than focusing on my own tour company, I could showcase this growing community on a platform, help it reach a larger audience, and scale all of our impacts!

 

What does your company do and what is the impact of your service on the travel industry?

We’re an online marketplace that connects you with activities and tours run by local ethical operators. You can have the time of your life and change a life by contributing to the communities that you are visiting. We showcase exciting single and multi-day trips run by organisations in partnership with home-grown charities or ethical operator groups. You can search, enquire, book and pay through our platform.

Tourism is a huge global industry, it contributed $1.4 trillion US dollars last year to the Global Economy and 1.8 billion travelers per year are forecast by 2030. Given its huge size, there is massive potential for this sector to have a positive social impact. However, multinational tour companies dominate the industry, which results in visited countries retaining just $5 out of every $100 spent by tourists.

Why can’t tourism, by being better shared locally, serve as the greatest form of wealth distribution that the world has ever seen? To meet this potential there is a growing community of local travel organizations that exist to support and invest in their communities, but they are currently being drowned out by multinational tour companies in online sales channels.

Clean Travel serves as a lightning rod to connect local tour operators online with the growing number of travelers who want to have truly authentic travel experience, ensuring tourism money stays in the country. Clean Travel will shake up the current tourism market by giving local tour operators a chance to compete in the online market. The current surge in socially conscious tourists presents a huge commercial opportunity, and Clean Travel is the vehicle that enables local ethical operators to cut through the noise and connect with these potential customers.

 

What recent milestones are you most proud of?

Our social media profile is growing fast, and we're booking trips already for 2018, but we’re most proud of the quality of local partners that have started to approach us about joining the Clean Travel Community.

We initially anticipated having to do a lot of groundwork and negotiations to get quality tour partners on board, but have been blown away by the level of engagement and interest that has been shown. Amazing local ethical tour companies have been approaching us, and this just shows how necessary and needed a platform such as Clean Travel is. Our message has really connected with them, and we’re proud that they recognise the potential of our growing community. This has led to over ten new exciting partners reaching out since we launched just last month.
 

What prompted you to apply to our Booster Lab?

I met with Anil from Backstreet Academy in Nepal in July, and he had great things to say about the Booster programme that Backstreet Academy participated in earlier this year. Their experience motivated me to keep an eye out for your next programme; I was very motivated to apply. Also, the high level of travel industry-specific expertise available and the ability to connect with the growing community of sustainable travel experts through this booster programme is first class!

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We’re counting down the days until we get to meet with Clean Travel team as well as all the other startups in Barcelona! Tomorrow we’ll post the next startup story. If you missed Friday’s post on Alternative Athens, you can find it here!

The Startup Introducing Travelers to an Alternative Athens

The Startup Introducing Travelers to an Alternative Athens

Get to know one of our startups participating in our first Booking Booster Lab in Barcelona December 1st through 3rd—Alternative Athens! They are the connection between the tourist and the non-touristic Greece. Alternative Athens facilitates thematic tours and activities ‘offering a genuine travel experience, connecting travelers with locals and helping them to discover the secrets of this fascinating, complex and diverse country’. They are highly regarded by a long list of travel stakeholders, CNN Travel, National Geographic, The Guardian, and the Telegraph, to name a few, and have been consecutive winners of the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for 4 years! Alternative Athens fosters economic growth in touristically underdeveloped areas by working exclusively with local businesses, be it small-scale hotels and hostels or local guides, all with the intention of creating an authentic travel experience for the average traveler.

We had a moment to ask Tina, co-founder of Alternative Athens, some of the motivations behind starting Alternative Athens, along with their impact and achievements. Here’s what she said:

 

What triggered you to start your business?

The Greek crisis was the kick in the butt I needed. I had worked in multinational companies for a long time; I had always wanted to create something of my own, but the safety of my life kept me back. So when everything was blown to pieces and the company I worked for ceased operations in Greece, I decided it was time to take a big leap.

The only clear thing in my mind was that it should be something I really loved. I had spent too much time working on things I didn’t care about, so my own company had to be about something I was really passionate about. I had never thought about turning travelling into a business. For the past 10 years I had been turning hefty corporate bonuses into trips to far away destinations where I would visit the main touristic attractions, but what interested me most was to see how people live, how they think, where they go out, how they eat, what the inside of their homes looks like. That was way before Airbnb etc., so I thought: “Why don’t I do in my own city what I do when I travel abroad?”. And I did.

Contrary to my previous business experience, I didn’t do any market research, marketing or business plans. I went with my gut instinct and created Alternative Athens, a project with the aim of showing people the true face of the city, away from touristic stereotypes, where travelers could experience the city and understand how Athenians live in their everyday life.

 

What does your startup do and what's the impact of your service on the travel industry?

The main problem we see in tourism is that it has become too impersonal, massive and commercial, a 'one fits all' commodity, that does not truly address the main objective of a traveler: To explore, to see the world from a different perspective and to have access to the culture of the place they visit.

Thus, Alternative Athens operates thematic tours & activities off the beaten track in Athens and beyond. We focus on the non-touristic aspects of Greece, offering a genuine travel experience, connecting travelers with locals - and helping them discover the secrets of this fascinating, complex and diverse country. Our tours include Food, Mythology, Neighborhoods, Street art, Greek Designers, Nightlife, LGBT etc. and our activities include Storytelling Walks, Role-Playing Games, cooked meals, cooking lessons at homes and activities for children.

The main impact we are bringing in the travel industry is that we introduce travelers to touristically underdeveloped areas throughout Greece, with the participation of local communities and for the benefit of local communities. In this way, we change the image of the country as a ‘Sea-Sun’ only destination, we redistribute the touristic income in a sustainable way for the destination and we create a whole ecosystem which is in line with the country’s morphology and social character: small-scale, authentic, with respect to its history and traditions.

 

What recent milestone(s) are you most proud of?

The Certificate of Excellence for a 4th year in a row from TripAdvisor, my inclusion in Greece’s most inspiring Female Entrepreneurs and the launch of day trips, which marks the beginning of our expansion to Greece with innovative local tours and experiences.

 

What prompted you to participate in this Booster Lab?

I have been working for a long time relying on my own strengths and have reached a limit of knowledge and know-how. We have created something very solid and unique in Europe, but we now need the support of experts that have been in this business for a long time and can provide us with some solid guidance for our next steps. Also, a fresh perspective of a knowledgeable outsider can help us look at things in a way we hadn’t even imagined. And last, but not least, it will be an opportunity to escape everyday reality and take a strategic look at what we do and why we do it.

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We’re very excited to work with Alternative Athens and all the other inspiring startups joining us in just a few short weeks. Stay tuned in the coming days for each of the startup’s stories. For a sneak peak, find an introduction to each on our previous post: ‘The 11 startups that will join the first Booster Labs weekend in Barcelona’.

The 11 startups that will join the first Booster Labs weekend in Barcelona

The 11 startups that will join the first Booster Labs weekend in Barcelona

Today we are announcing the 11 startups that will join our first Booster Labs weekend in Barcelona. The goal of the programme is to give early-stage startups the insights, tools and skills they need to grow and make an impact. 

The selected ventures will participate in hands-on workshops, attend insightful talks and keynotes, and have some fun too! The weekend will culminate in a pitch on the startup's roadmap and impact before an expert jury with the chance to win grants between €10,000 and € 25,000, as well as other prizes.

The 11 sustainable tourism startups are:

Alternative Athens

"Alternative Athens operates thematic tours & activities off the beaten track in Athens and beyond. We focus on the non-touristic aspects of Greece, offering a genuine travel experience, connecting travelers with locals - and helping them discover the secrets of this fascinating, complex and diverse country. Our goal is to expand our activities all over Greece, developing areas which are unknown or have important touristic potential, with thematic tours, self-drive itineraries and small-group escorted holidays. Our business model focuses on the collaboration with local businesses and individuals, in a way that promotes the local treasures in a sustainable way and capitalizes on the unique features of the Greek land and culture that are by definition touristically ‘anti-massive’. " - Tina, Founder of Alternative Athens.

www.alternativeathens.com/

Clean Travel

"We’re an online marketplace that connects you with activities and tours run by local ethical operators. You can have the time of your life and change a life by contributing to the communities that you are visiting.  We showcase exciting single and multi-day trips run by organisations that may in partnership with home-grown charities, ethical operator groups or Fair Trade certified and you can search, enquire, book and pay through our platform. The tours and itineraries, the quality of accommodation and the transport will be as good, if not better than multi-national providers. However, instead of staying in a generic international chain hotel, your accommodation in India is in a community lodge, whose profits help fund the local rural schools. Or else, while trekking in the Himalayas, perhaps your guide is a former victim of trafficking. These elements will bring unique insights to your travel experience." - Mac, Co-Founder and CEO.

www.cleantravel.org/

CloudGuide

"CloudGuide is a global tourist app for smart cultural sightseeing, uniting ALL cultural institutions and tourist attractions in ONE app with OFFICIAL content (guides and tours), offering a modern alternative to traditional audioguides and museum branded apps. It promotes smart travelling and aims to interconnect the site and the visitor and boost the communication between them. CloudGuide works with over 330 institutions in 13 countries, including the Vienna State Opera, Atomium (Brussels), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), Smithnsonian (Washington), Jewish Museum (Berlin), Miro Foundation (Barcelona), Sagrada Familia (Barcelona). CloudGuide has an opportunity to disrupt the cultural world and become the industry standard. CloudGuide aims to shake up the museum industry and change the way people travel. Make cultural heritage sites wake up." - Olga, Founder & CEO

www.cloudguide.me/

European Safari Company

"The European Safari Company (ESC) is pioneering authentic nature travel in Europe, by bringing real experiences to the everyday traveler and supporting wildlife comeback, we aim to stimulate community development by encouraging nature based businesses to grow and develop; always with a healthy positive engagement with nature. The ESC leverages off a growing wildlife tourism opportunity in Europe by providing an optimized direct route to the market for Europe’s leading and most interesting nature and wildlife tourism products and experiences directly linking nature travel to rewilding. The ESC will offer top quality authentic nature and wildlife experiences, integrating culture, cuisine and Europe’s diversity into experiences which aren’t normally known or accessible to the general naturalist or traveler; these are often hard to find or engage with. We offer a style of travel where all of Europe's culture, charm and wildlife are brought together in travel experiences, where guests have a direct impact on the sustainability of nature and communities - mutually sustainable." - Simon, Developing Manager

www.europeansafaricompany.com/

Nexto

"We are building a mobile platform that enables cultural tourism organizations (destination marketing agencies, heritage interpreters, creative agencies, etc.) to create engaging on-location gamified AR experiences. We are bringing destinations of historic and cultural significance to life by enabling on-location "escape room" type experiences with the concepts of gamification and AR on mobile devices. With Nexto, any historic location (ruins, castles, archeological sites) can become a gamified attraction. Our goal is to gradually replace the outdated audio guide concept with a new and immersive way of location based storytelling on your mobile device. We want to make visitors feel like they're Indiana Jones, exploring hidden and off the path locations. Especially with AR, we imagine heritage locations as theme parks of the future (i.e. Jurrasic Park, HBO’s Westworld) where visitors will be able to experience historic events first hand and immerse themselves into historic narratives." - Franci, CEO

nexto.io/

One Planet Rating

"'Tripadvisor for sustainability' One Planet Rating (OPR) is the world's first dedicated review platform for sustainable travel & tourism. Travelers rate Hotels, Restaurants, Cities, Sights and Activities based on sustainability, specifically environmental, social and cultural issues. One Planet Rating empowers travelers to search, rate and plan travel based on impact, anywhere in the world. One Planet Rating is built on three major premises; • Easy and fast to use – the platform is designed to cater to both the novice and the expert. You can rate easily visible factors such as the prevalence of organic food, litter free beaches or energy saving advice in hotel rooms to more in depth issues like fair wages and local heritage protection. Every time you use the platform you learn about other issues to rate for future visits – One Planet Rating is also an educational platform. • Race to the top – OPR acts as a complement to certifications - a reality check from the guests. User reviews push service providers to constantly compete and improve rather than settle for the minimum requirement, “check box” mentality of the certification model. • Mass market appeal - OPR gives everyone the possibility to find and rate any hotel, restaurant, tourist activity or city from day one and thus push their usual choices to do better on sustainability. We believe we can create positive impact on a wider scale by getting actors with little or no effort on sustainability so far to accelerate rather than trying to marginally improve existing sustainability leaders." - Richard, Co-Founder

www.oneplanetrating.com/

STUDIOMAPP

"STUDIOMAPP is a startup dedicated to develop services and products to improve the Quality of Life thanks to technology. STUDIOMAPP has a wide experience in Big Data, IoT and Data Science applications using FIWARE, the open cloud ecosystem developed by leading ICT companies in Europe and supported by the European Commission, and it was selected by one of the FIWARE Accelerators to develop Qirate. QIRATE is a location intelligence service that rates the liveability of a place and gives map based information in a tailor made set of quality indicators and preferences. QIRATE will also collect data working with local stakeholders and residents, aggregate public and private datasets to measure economic value and quality of life standards using analytics and reports of the urban ecosystem. We started to work with the support of the European Space Agency and NVIDIA to develop artificial intelligence algorithms to measure the impact of the touristic flows and the impact in the ecosystem according to phenomena like overcrowding and environmental and sociocultural effects associated with mass tourism to develop a scientific granular analysis on location, in order to provide analytics and tools to differentiate and grow touristic and accommodation offers, also in not fully developed areas." - Leonardo, Co-Founder and CTO

www.studiomapp.com/en/

subcultours

"subcultours is a booking platform for creative experiences offered by artists and creative entrepreneurs. Customers can see the artist profiles and can select their preferred date and suggest a price they are willing to pay. Artists can offer all kind of creative experience including a workshop, a tour, a personal storytelling part about their life and passion, a overnight stay, and anything according to their creative imagination. subcultours takes a 20% commission on each booking and charges a monthly/yearly membership fee from hotels and hostel partners who use the platform to find relevant artists for their own projects (e.g. in-house events, construction, designing). We change the world of travel to "traveling sustainably" by supporting all local craft workers, artists and creative entrepreneurs." - Katja, Founder

www.subcultours.com/

The Outdoor Journal

"The Outdoor Journal & Voyage is a media and travel booking platform, building a scalable and profitable business while promoting diverse and alternative voices, sustainable development and wilderness conservation. Our media platform builds a conscious community, who can then book the adventures they read about. Our business acts as a two-sided platform between outdoor enthusiasts and local operators, worldwide. For customers, we offer curated, high-quality, high-safety adventures across the globe; led by an editorial / media-driven customer acquisition strategy. On the supplier-side, we offer global reach to their target customers, with zero sales and marketing cost. We offer friction-less matching and ease of bookings for both sides." - Apoorva, Founder & CEO

www.outdoorvoyage.com/

tripUniq

"tripUniq is a tailored travel planning service made by locals. Nowadays, planning a stay is long and difficult for a traveler because of his lack of local knowledge. We believe that someone living in the city can do it faster and better and that’s why tripUniq connects travelers with Local Heroes. Depending on their interests we match travelers with their Local Hero alike. Once the order is placed, traveler and local can contact. Then, the Local Hero will create a tailored travel guide his stay (including daily itineraries ) using tripUniq’s Travel Guides Editor. At the end, the traveler gets the tailored travel guide through tripUniq’s App. Every Tailored guide includes daily maps, points of interest, general information, local tips, food suggestions and local events taking place during the stay. All the maps, images and information are available offline. Thanks to our technology tripUniq is more than a simple Market Place. The Guide Editor and the Apps multiply the benefits of the Local - Traveler exchange guarantee that the platform can’t be bypassed and create a competitive advantage with future competitors as Locals will already have created their contents in our platform." - Charles, CEO

tripuniq.com/

Xmigrations

"Xmigrations is the new marketplace in which you can book travel experiences like surfing, scuba diving, hiking and more. We are the solution for those who want to migrate from the city to the nature. Xmigrations works with a single merchant, in this early stage, for each destination and sport, offering to you only the best option and always under our brand of "Xmigrations". Xmigrations is ecological and innovative too. Ecological as with every reservation, we donate a percentage of our income to local environmental actions, introducing the environmental NGOS to the classic relation between tourist-enterprise. Innovative because we make immersive 360º EXPERIENCES APP videos in nature." - Manuel, CEO

www.xmigrations.com/

 

Learn how Awake uses tourism to protect biodiversity

Learn how Awake uses tourism to protect biodiversity

Meet Awake from Colombia. In 2008, Miguel and Laura’s lives changed forever following a trekking and kayaking expedition through the Magdalena River. Since then, they have been connecting with local communities in Colombia to offer the world authentic natural experiences in the most beautiful parts of the country. Their project supports rural communities who live in harmony with nature by giving them access to sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Find out how Local Alike empowers local communities through tourism

Find out how Local Alike empowers local communities through tourism

Meet Pai, Founder of Local Alike. Local Alike turned their vision of “community based tourism” into reality. How? Encouraging local residents to become storytellers and share their everyday life with visitors. A great experience for everyone looking for meaningful and authentic travel across Thailand.

The Good Hotel proves that premium hotel experiences can support a social cause

The Good Hotel proves that premium hotel experiences can support a social cause

Meet the Good Hotel Group! Can premium guest experiences support a social cause and foster human connection? The first Good Hotel in Antigua proves it’s possible! This initiative aims at giving work opportunities to long-term unemployed locals, offering professional training, supporting local family-run enterprises and providing quality education to the children of Guatemala. Cristina shares their ambitious goal for their project: opening 7 Good Hotels by 2020. Watch their full story: 

Mejdi Tours illustrates that tourism can overcome differences and conflicts

Mejdi Tours illustrates that tourism can overcome differences and conflicts

Mejdi Tours was founded by two friends: one Jewish and one Palestinian, and illustrates how tourism can overcome differences and conflicts. Aziz, Co-Founder: “There are always two sides to a story; we believe that you can only really get to know a destination by hearing intercultural perspectives. A tour with us is opening yourself up to the fact that there is more that unites us than separates us.” 

Can social enterprises fuel the future of global tourism? Visit.org thinks so!

Can social enterprises fuel the future of global tourism? Visit.org thinks so!

Can social enterprises fuel the future of global tourism and support local development? The answer is yes! This is the aim of Michal's project, founded in 2015 to bridge the demand for conscious and authentic travel with experiences offered by local do good organisations around the world. From anti-mafia walking tours in Sicily to eco-tours in Colombia, the platform has helped more than 500 social ventures create travel products with a direct impact on local communities.

Find out how Backstreet Academy's travel experiences aim to alleviate poverty

Find out how Backstreet Academy's travel experiences aim to alleviate poverty

Meet Backstreet Academy! Walls are made to come down and impossible challenges to be tackled. This is why Jamon and Akash founded a new peer-to-peer travel platform. Their goal? Support local communities through technology and linguistic expertise to create authentic travel experiences aiming at alleviating poverty. The startup has helped more than 600 individuals to become micro-entrepreneurs in the field of tourism and offers experiences ranging from activities with local fishermen on the Mekong river to traditional boxing lessons in Cambodia.

Share your skills while travelling with Moving Worlds

Share your skills while travelling with Moving Worlds

Ever heard about “Experteering”? Well, it’s what Moving Worlds is all about! Mark and Derk’s idea connects volunteers all over the world with immersive and human experiences through skills-based volunteering projects. Volunteers can travel the planet and contribute to change it for the better by helping with social causes. Learn more by watching their story. 

Taste the real soul of a place with Authenticook

Taste the real soul of a place with Authenticook

Authenticook celebrates India’s kaleidoscopic cooking tradition through a “social dining” platform. Food is the most universal gateway to local culture, so what better way to experience a destination than enjoying a homemade meal with locals? Rediscover the pleasure of taking time to taste the real soul of a place while making a positive impact on local communities - have a look at their story. 
 

Learn how Desolenator is providing fresh drinking water to destinations around the world

Learn how Desolenator is providing fresh drinking water to destinations around the world

When it comes to providing fresh drinking water to the world’s population, every little drop in the ocean counts. That’s why William and Alexei launched Desolenator, a startup that has developed a water purifier powered by solar energy. This innovative technology can be used to purify water from any source (including seawater) and could really make the difference in drought stricken areas, in households - or in coastal accommodation properties. 

Have a look at their story.

 

Learn how the Seabin Project is removing plastics from our oceans

Learn how the Seabin Project is removing plastics from our oceans

Plastic waste is one of the biggest challenges of our time. The Seabin Project found a way to turn this problem into an opportunity. Pete, Founder, explains how this innovative technological solution removes plastics from our oceans and is being piloted in many marinas around the world, from the U.S to Montenegro, through Spain and Finland. A great example of how technology and innovation can make the world a better place.

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 Booking.com mentors and coaches, and now the recipients of a share of the €2 million Booking.com fund have been announced.

 After hearing the final pitches of the startups at NEMO in Amsterdam, the panel of Booking.com 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:

 

A WELCOME FROM GILLIAN

Gillian Tans (CEO Booking.com) kicking off the grand finale

Gillian Tans (CEO Booking.com) 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com’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

 

TIME FOR THE FINAL LIVE PITCHES

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 Booking.com Booster Programme this year were truly inspiring,” said Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com. “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 FINALLY THE LONG AWAITED MOMENT COMES

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 Desolenator.org (Global) for €150k.

“Being a part of Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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.”

 

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

This exciting adventure started by Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com mentors teaming up with the Booster startups

Meet the Booking.com mentors teaming up with the Booster startups

Twenty-four Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Booking.com 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 Visit.org working on their marketing strategies

Dana and Michal from Visit.org 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 Booking.com), 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 Booking.com) 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 (Booking.com) 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 Booking.com)

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

  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 Booking.com) showed two images of the search box of Booking.com’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 Booking.com.

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

Cristina of Good Hotel with her Booking.com 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 Booking.com, 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 Booking.com’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.

Booking.com's finance experts giving booster support.

Booking.com's finance experts giving booster support.

 

Pitching to 300 of Booking.com’s ‘techies’

The week ended with a big practice pitch in front of more than 300 tech experts from Booking.com 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 Booking.com’s first ever Booster Programme. 

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

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

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

Grow

But, how to scale their businesses to get there is the million dollar question? As part of the programme, Booking.com 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 – Visit.org

Tourism: a force of good

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

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

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 Booking.com 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.