Meet the travel startups competing for a €500,000 grant from booking.com

Andrew Munro 10 April 2017

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These unique startups might all have what it takes to change the world - and deliver unforgettable trips.

Booking.com has quickly become one of the world's leaders in accommodation, with more than 750,000 rooms booked on the website every day. Its mission has always been to help people see the world, and now its looking to give something back to the destinations that have helped it thrive.

The booking.com Cares program is designed to help nurture these destinations, with a focus on the environment, cultural heritage and inclusive growth in particular. The Booking.com Booster is a €500,000 grant (more than $700,000 Australian) for one startup that can help it achieve this mission.

There were almost 700 startups in the running at first, and now it's been narrowed down to just 10. All of them are now in for a few weeks of intensive workshops, lectures and coaching with industry experts, and an opportunity to pitch for the grant.

Meet the finalists

The 10 finalists, chosen from all over the world are:

  • Seabin (Australia and Spain): Marinas and commercial ports are a mainstay of travel, but are also responsible for a lot of the garbage that's accumulating in the oceans. The Seabin Project is part educational, teaching tomorrow's generation about the importance of keeping the seas clean, and part high-tech floating garbage can to catch the garbage at the source. It moves up and down with the tide, and can be sustainably powered to suck water in from the surface and filter out garbage to be properly disposed of, bringing cleaner oceans for all.
  • Local Alike (Thailand): A hub for connecting travellers with amazing experiences offered directly by local hosts, small businesses and some travel companies. This startup strives to offer truly unique experiences that visitors won't be able to able to find in other ways. It's a marketplace rather than a booking site, and matches visitors with communities for more meaningful trips, rather than simply running them through as just another customer.
  • Backstreet Academy (Singapore and Southeast Asia): A peer to peer travel platform, for people to seek out others around the world and learn things that really resonate with them personally. Instead of picking destinations, visitors to Backstreet Academy can pick experiences and learn from real masters, with a local facilitator to help them along.
  • Authenticook (India): If you want an authentic dining experience overseas, this startup can help. Visitors can book meals in countries around the world and join local hosts for meals. All local hosts have been vetted for quality (and friendliness!) to make sure visitors can enjoy a truly unforgettable dining experience outside of restaurants.
  • Good Hotel (Guatemala, UK and Netherlands): Good Hotel is a good hotel in every sense of the word. A former mansion now reconverted to high quality yet budget-friendly accommodation, with an eye towards renewable design, and a business model that gives back to the local community. An open design and combined meeting and workspaces encourages guests and locals to meet each other, hang out, share experiences and create something better.
  • Awake (Colombia): This startup is focused on nature trips and Colombia and connects visitors with local guides who know the things you absolutely have to do, and can safely take you further from the beaten path. It's designed to make a real difference by creating a local financial incentive to protect the stunning wildlife and ecosystems, and maintain unique local culture and customs.
  • MovingWorlds (USA and Colombia): MovingWorlds aims to go beyond the largely-commercialised "voluntourism" industry by matching visitors with areas that can really benefit from their particular skills, and includes a training program before departure to help make the most of it and make a real difference. You pick the destination and the duration and get matched with local organisations that could really use your help.
  • MEDJI Tours (Israel and Palestine): This company offers fully customised tours all over the world, including some unique behind-the-scenes places where no other groups can go. An award-winning "dual narrative" approach to guided tours helps visitors get both sides of complex issues and history, first hand. If you want to engage with complex topics in Israel and Palestine, Ireland, Cuba, Bosia/Croatia, the Ukraine and many others, then MEDJI aims to deliver, without sacrificing comfort or security.
  • Desolenator (UK): Still under development, the Desolenator aims to become the world's most efficient water purification device, able to rollout all around the world, literally. It's fully mobile. boasts a potential lifespan of up to 20 years and is solar powered to boil water and functional even in areas where groundwater is heavily polluted or otherwise contaminated. This device might help overcome the challenge of having a single water purification device that can work almost anywhere, and is both a financially viable product for businesses and households, as well as a livesaving device for charities.
  • Visit.org (USA): Designer travel experiences, for the trips you want with a positive social impact. This tech startup doesn't collect any fees from its hosts and instead charges users a small fee to connect them with truly unforgettable travel experiences. All hosts have been strictly vetted with the criteria that they reinvest their own profits back into the community, operate sustainably and are genuinely understanding and respectful of local traditions. In short, you know for sure that you're travelling with responsible organisations, while still getting your dream trip.

All of these, with the exception of Seabin and the Desolenator are currently active and can be used right now. If you're looking to change things up and take a truly unforgettable trip, these might be a good way to do it.

And if you book with the startup that ends up winning the Booking.com Booster grant, you can also say you knew them before they were famous!

Naturally, you can also book rooms directly with Booking.com, which guarantees both price and quality.

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