Online travel platform Booking.com has been giving a leg up to such ventures with its ‘Booking Booster’ programme that involves a grant of 2 million euros annually to 10 startups selected globally.
“We look for locally relevant and globally scalable ventures,” says Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans.
This year’s 10 winners at Booking Booster included Indian startup ‘NotOnMap’, which restores houses and preserves dying cultures in remote areas and connects them to travellers to generate income for locals through selling traditional stays and experiences.
Another Indian startup, Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), was among the top winners of 2018 with the highest grant of 400,000 euros for its unique ‘impact’ expeditions through which tourists bring solar energy to remote Himalayan villages. More than 1,000 trekkers from 60 countries have brought electricity to over 90 villages since the venture started in 2013.
India is among the top 20 fastest growing suppliers in alternative accommodations segment. “We see huge opportunity in in-bound, out-bound and local travel, also as more and more customers are opting for localised experiences,” says Tans. The Dutch startup, which has now emerged as a tech travel major, grew 40% in homestay listings with over 880,000 total listings in India of which140,000 are in homes and unique places to stay. Goa, Kerala, Karnataka and northeast have seen the maximum growth in alternative accommodations.
Tans says the company is “demand-driven and constantly innovates to deliver the best”, citing how it is now focusing on the Cricket World Cup fever to catch up with travel needs of the game’s loyalists. “There will also be a focus on Tier II, Tier III cities in India,” she adds.
Delving on changing travel attitudes, Pepijn Rijvers, head of accommodation, says 3/4ths of Indians prefer eco-friendly stay, the most globally, while 68% seek a different kind of experience each time. “Culture and location-specific expectations are one of the biggest challenges,” he says.
“We promote tourism that touches human lives at the local level,” says global manager (Booking Cares) Marianne Gybels, referring to the ‘Booster’ mentorship programme.
(The writer was in Amsterdam at the invitation of Booking.com )