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Giant OTA throws big cash at sustainable tourism startups

May 15, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An Australian sustainable tourism startup is one of two companies selected to receive a grant of almost AUD 650,000 from the major digital travel platform and online travel agent (OTA) Booking.com.

Booking.com announced the sustainable tourism startups to receive its ‘scaling grants’ as part of its 2019 Booking Booster accelerator program. Now in its third year, the three-week accelerator program consists of a series of lectures, hands-on workshops and coaching sessions led by Booking.com employees and experts.

The program culminates in a final pitch to receive a scaling grant of up to EUR 500,000 (AUD 809,000) from Booking.com’s EUR 2 million (AUD 3.24 milliion) fund to help support the next stage of the startups’ projected growth.

The 10 teams of finalists pitched their scaling plans to a live audience and a panel of expert judges in Amsterdam, including 2019 Booking Booster Ambasador Livia Firth, with Okra Solar from Australia and IMPULSE Travel from Colombia being awarded this year’s highest grants of EUR 400,000 (AUD 650,000) for their proposed plans.

Okra has developed an innovative solar grid technology and has ambitions to transform the energy market and provide affordable energy access for the more than one billion people currently living off-grid, providing them with new opportunities to share their communities with travellers and the world – which of course benefits tourism.

Okra is helping off-grid communities around the world leapfrog fossil fuels to become 100% renewable “from the sky down”, using distributed solar smart-grids that provide clean power around the clock.

One of Okra’s partners, Pteah Baitong, connecting an Okra sharing cable

Off-grid families in Cambodia connected to Okra’s pilot grids are now powering basic appliances that most Australians take for granted: lights, phone-chargers, fans, TVs, water pumps, washing machines and refrigerators.

“More than one billion people don’t have the opportunities that come with energy access,” said Okra Solar co-founder and chief executive, Afnan Hannan.

“We’ll use the lessons we’ve learned and the funding we’ve received from the Booking Booster to make sure we can reach the 40,000 people currently waiting for our plug-and-play energy access solutions. As energy unlocks opportunities, many of the people in these beautiful off-the-beaten-path destinations will start traveling and opening their doors to share their culture with the world on Booking.com and other Booking Booster platforms too! The future is exciting!”

IMPULSE Travel is a regenerative tourism platform for in-destination experiences, offering more than 200 tours and activities in seven locations in Colombia, letting local communities take charge of the narrative around the country’s future and ultimately spreading a message of peace.

“I am so impressed by the incredible dedication of these amazing startups and the innovative solutions they are developing to protect communities and resources in every corner of the globe,” Booking.com president and chief executive, Gillian Tans, commented.

“We have long believed that technology is a powerful instrument for good, including when it comes to sustainable travel. I’m so proud of each and every one of these passionate changemakers and am looking forward to following their progress and supporting them as they seek to transform their visions into reality, helping to keep the destinations that we all love happy and healthy for decades to come.”

The 10 startups that participated in the 2019 program hail from eight different countries.  Their businesses represent a diverse mix of models and solutions, including products that leverage technology to facilitate environmental and wildlife conservation at scale, as well as platforms that empower at-risk communities to thrive through their inclusive approach to tourism.

Edited by Peter Needham

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