Startup entrepreneurs get advice from experts at a tourism mentoring bootcamp. Photo: MIST.
The best tourism startups will converge at the 2017 Mekong Tourism Forum on June 6 to pitch their business plans to venture capitalists and industry experts.
The final hackathon of the Mekong Innovative Startup Tourism (MIST) accelerator program is one of the highlights of this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum, which will be held in Luang Prabang, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). A joint venture of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office and the Mekong Business Initiative, the program is helping promising startups in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam develop responsible and sustainable tourism. (UPDATE: MIST Tourism Accelerator Announces Mekong Business Initiative Tourism Innovation Grant Winners.)
“Innovation and technologies are transforming the world’s tourism sector, but the Mekong region has lagged behind. We are eager to see the region’s startups innovate and create new avenues for tourism growth.” said Dominic Mellor, senior economist for Viet Nam at the Asian Development Bank. He is also the head of the Mekong Business Initiative at ADB, which is funding the initiative together with the Government of Australia.
Fast-growing tourism industry
The Greater Mekong Subregion is one of the world’s fastest growing markets for tourism. Visitor arrivals went up by nearly 15% to 57.9 million in 2015 from 2014, according to the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, which helps develop and promote the Greater Mekong Subregion as a single travel destination. Tourist spending grew by almost 17% to $63.8 billion in 2015.
The subregion, which groups together the six countries that share the Mekong River, boasts of destinations that are rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. These include ancient monuments and royal capitals, such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the city of Luang Prabang.
Eco-friendly and tech-savvy startups
The tourism accelerator program has two tracks: Early Stage Startup and Market Access.
In the Early Stage Startup Track, 12 startups from the 21 semi-finalists listed below will qualify for the one-day boot camp in Luang Prabang where tourism, business, and innovation experts will help refine their business plans before presenting these to the judges.
In the Market Access Track for mature startups, 10 finalists will be chosen to join the final hackathon. Shortlisted teams include Baolau, Borderpass, Zip Event, Empty Shack, Loka Local, Urban Tales, and Booking Boss.
The qualifying startups include technology-driven enterprises that offer on-demand travel services and those that offer low-impact, environment- and community-friendly tours. They were chosen based on profitability of their business plans and how they will create jobs, help local communities, and support sustainable tourism. The winners will receive access to international investors, joint venture partners, mentors, and supplier networks.
Early Stage Startup semi-finalists
- Book Me a Bus connects travelers and bus operators in real time.
- CamboTicket aggregates bus, ferry and private taxi bookings around Cambodia and Lao PDR into one platform.
- Manoa connects tour operators across the region using an integrated document manager, text messaging, rating system, and digital invoicing.
- GuideInsider offers travel guides on local sights and activities, including history, opening times, tour guides, tour packages and user reviews
From Lao PDR:
- Artisan Origins by TAEC offers high-quality handicrafts from ethnic communities in Lao PDR, and operates a café and information center.
- Ma Te Sai preserves cultural heritage and offers livelihood options to the youth in Nambak. It includes a multipurpose information center and roadside café.
- Passa Paa is a design and print studio in Luang Prabang that creates Hmong-inspired textile.
- ezStay is a booking site for hotels and guesthouses, which uses local Myanmar payment services to manage transactions.
- GoP is a travel app designed for local tourists.
- Wae ka Wah Mon Villages guides travelers along World War II trails and provides information on Mon state’s history and textile industry.
From Viet Nam:
- Bayo provides travel information, including suppliers and prices, helping tourists transact with local suppliers easily.
- I Love Asia offers women-led motorbike tours of Hoi An and Hue, and supports projects for disadvantaged communities.
- Hue Free Walking Tour also offers historical tours and hands-on tours for English-speaking travelers.
- Dichung uses technology to promote low-impact rideshare transportation options.
- Mimoza offers a 3D virtual tour of top destinations.
- Chameleon City is an on-demand, chat-based service that provides travel and lifestyle answers from local experts.
- Oneclicktogo offers flight and hotel booking services, and travel recommendations and reviews.
- Tugo is a tech-based tour operator and travel community that seeks to offer low-cost and reliable packages and tours around the world.
- Morning Rooms is Viet Nam’s largest budget hotel network.
- Innaway is an online hotel booking system.
- Putaleng Legend offers ecotourism, adventure, and cultural tours.