All you need to know about Booster, the first accelerator for sustainable tourism startups

There’s only one week left to apply for Booking.com’s accelerator for sustainable tourism startups! We asked Wendy van Leeuwen, Program Manager for Booster why Booking.com decided to run it and what teams have the best chance to win. Wendy also shared with us the biggest achievements of Booking Cares, company’s volunteering program.

This is the second interview in the Sustainability in Online Travel Interview Series, in which are exploring ways how online travel brands can promote and support the growth of sustainable tourism.

ANULA: Why did Booking.com decide to run Booster? 

Wendy van Leeuwen, Wendy van Leeuwen, Program Manager for Booking.com Booster, accelerator for sustainable tourism startups
Wendy van Leeuwen, Program Manager for Booking.com Booster

WENDY: In helping travellers to explore and experience more than 100,000 unique destinations all over the world, at Booking.com we also want to contribute to the ongoing health of these same destinations so that future generations can continue to enjoy them for years to come. With the Booking.com Booster programme, our goal is to identify, mentor and help fund promising startups that are seeking to have an innovative, positive impact on the global tourism industry. By investing our time, expertise and capital into these promising social enterprises, we want to work together with them towards a more sustainable future for the global travel industry.

ANULA: What type of projects have the best chance of getting your support?

WENDY: Between 8 and 12 startups will be invited to join the Booking.com Booster Program in 2017. We’re purposefully keeping the numbers small so that we can provide the best possible experience for the participating ventures. As this is our first year running the programme, we want to learn together with the social enterprises we sponsor about how best to support their scaling and growth plans, not just during the 3-week accelerator, but with ongoing mentoring and coaching over the following months and years.

We’re looking for startups that work in sustainable tourism that can already demonstrate the impact that they have had in terms of protecting the environment, preserving cultural heritage and/or promoting inclusive growth for local communities.

We’re particularly interested in startups with innovative business models and a fresh approach, who also have a sound organisational strategy and a skilled, passionate and committed management team at their helm. The startups need to already generate revenue, but not more than €1.5 million (or the local equivalent) annually, and must be registered as a for-profit business to apply.

ANULA: There’s been some criticism of accelerator programs run by big corporations. How is yours different?

WENDY: Protecting the destinations we love is core to our DNA at Booking.com and that’s really what sets our programme apart. We want to have a lasting, positive impact on the travel industry and are truly invested in helping the startups we identify to succeed and reach their goals. As such, Booking.com Booster has been designed not only to inspire the startups that are selected to participate, but also to arm them with the knowledge, skills, and expertise they need in the long-term to propel their business plans forward in order to have a truly global impact.

At Booking.com, we believe in the power of starting small and iterating on a great idea until it has the potential to truly change the world. We also started out small at Booking.com—just one entrepreneur with a really great idea. Because we understand how crucial the right guidance and strategy can be for a startup, particularly in the early days, in addition to the financial support we’re offering, we’re taking a keen interest in the startups we sponsor, pairing each one with an expert mentor from our senior leadership to help make sure their scaling plans are a success.

ANULA: Is Booking.com going to gain shares in the selected startups, or are you planning to incorporate them at some point?

Good question! The answer is no. Booking.com is not taking any equity or gaining shares in the startups that will be participating in the programme and receiving funding. The financial support given will be in the form of a grant. We’re simply looking to help kickstart their growth and mentor them as they attempt to scale their business plans globally. After the completion of the programme, we do plan to stay in contact with them and will definitely ask for updates on how their businesses and impact are growing over time.

Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme _ Plant a Tree (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme _ Plant a Tree (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

ANULA: How has Booking.com been demonstrating corporate responsibility up till now?

WENDY: At Booking.com, our mission is to empower people to experience the world, so ensuring a sustainable future for the global travel industry is incredibly important to us. To that end, we’ve been building the foundation for our accelerator programme in sustainable tourism for quite some time. It’s actually an extension of the work we’ve been doing for the past three years as part of our Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme, contributing our time and expertise to help improve destinations worldwide.

ANULA: What are you most proud of?

WENDY: Through this initiative thus far, Booking.com employees have been involved in over 900 projects sponsored by our NGO partners all across the globe. We’ve spent time protecting natural resources through beach clean-ups and national park maintenance, volunteered at special events to preserve cultural heritage, and supported organisations that make sure local communities are able to benefit and make a healthy living through tourism. This includes supporting a tour operator that employs former homeless people as tour guides or volunteering at a hotel that employs former refugees as two-thirds of their staff.

There are so many incredible and impactful projects we have supported over the past year, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. But one that I particularly love is the project we did with Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam, which was a combination of both hands-on volunteering and more expertise, skills-based work. Not only did we volunteer in the conservation centre for a day, but we also collaborated with our accommodation partners in the area to create a video about the project to help raise awareness for the conservation work the organisation does. We’re very passionate about our Volunteer Programme, as well as our new Booking.com Booster Programme and are excited to see the impact we can continue to have by sharing our time, expertise and financial support with promising startups and other organisations that share our vision.

ANULA: How do you measure the impact of Booking Cares?

WENDY: At Booking.com, our employees are at the very heart of our Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme. In 2016 alone, 178 Booking.com offices participated in our Volunteer Programme, with more than 5,200 employees volunteering a total of 31,401 hours as part of a wide variety of 400+ projects around the world to improve the destinations we love. Last year we planted more than 30,000 trees, collected over 13,000 kg of waste, helped protect more than 2.5 million animals, and helped more than 10,000 people in local communities to benefit more equally through inclusive tourism activities. Our ambition is of course to keep growing our programme, encouraging even more employees to participate and get involved in great projects with our NGO partners in every corner of the globe. We’re also looking at creative ways to include our accommodation partners and potentially even our customers in these volunteer projects to further boost the impact we can have with these projects globally.

Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme _ Cuc Phuong National Park (Vietnam)
Booking.com Cares Volunteer Programme _ Cuc Phuong National Park (Vietnam)

ANULA: What role can an OTA play in supporting the growth of sustainable tourism?

WENDY: The challenges around fostering more sustainable tourism practices are complex and require cooperation, ingenuity and persistence on several fronts. That’s why our approach is to help identify and support promising startups, so that they can take their great ideas to the next level. At Booking.com, we believe in making progress through lots of small steps and tiny changes. One by one, these changes might not seem significant, but add them all together, over time they start to have a huge impact. And that’s the idea behind our accelerator programme.

We’re starting modestly with a few startups to learn how best to support them and help propel their growth. Our ambition is to learn together with them and explore how we can grow our collective impact together. In helping these startups to scale their business plans and reach more destinations around the world, we can help plant the seeds for meaningful change.

Our ambition is to definitely continue with this programme and to grow a community of social enterprises that are dedicated to protecting the environment, preserving cultural heritage and promoting inclusive growth in tourism that supports and develops local economies and communities. The Booking.com Booster Programme is just the beginning.

To find out more and apply for Booking.com Booster, follow this link. You have time until the 1st of March!

Booking.com Booster accelerator for sustainable tourism startups

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