Changing travel: the sustainable startups boosted by awards from Booking.com


Digital travel firm Booking.com has announced the sustainable travel startups that will receive financial assistance from its 2019 Booking Booster programme. As part of the programme – which has a fund of €2m – awards have been made to a variety of organisations, from a social enterprise training at-risk women to become trekking guides in Nepal, to a hotel school helping young people in Indonesia kickstart their careers.

Each organisation’s plans were judged by a panel, including Booking Booster ambassador, Livia Firth. At the awards event Firth spoke about the importance of supporting sustainable travel. “Whoever we are and wherever we work – whether in startups, established companies, policymakers or members of government – we have the power to make a difference every day,” she said. “Today we know that we can also make a huge difference when we book a trip.”

For 2019, 10 startups from eight countries were recognised in the awards. We profile five of this year’s winners and look back at some winners from previous years.

Impulse Travel, Colombia

Group photo of Impulse Travel project in Colombia.


This tour company runs more than 200 travel experiences, with local guides including creatives, scientists and foodies. The immersive experiences and activities are based around culture, nature and local stories – such as a four-hour tour of Bogotá’s second oldest neighbourhood, Egipto, hearing stories from former gang members, some of whom now work in tourism ($45); and fishing with locals in Cartagena ($83, four hours). Impulse hopes to contribute to the peace-building process and cultural preservation across Colombia.
impulsetravel.co

Sasane Sisterhood Trekking and Travel, Nepal

Nagarkot, east of Kathmandu, Nepal.



Nagarkot, east of Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Tjetjep Rustandi/Alamy

Currently operating in Nepal, Sasane trains female human-trafficking survivors to become trekking guides in the Himalayas. Tours include a two-day trek around the pilgrimage sites near Nagarkot (£92), and a seven-day hike of the Ghorepani Poonhill mountains and rural villages (£459). By improving infrastructure, creating alternative incomes and driving tourism to vulnerable areas, the company aims to help reduce and eventually eliminate trafficking, gender-based violence and child marriage in the communities it works with and visits.
sasanesisterhoodtrek.com

Not On Map, India

A group photo of travellers and locals 
 sat on the floor of a traditional house in India. NotOnMap aims to protect farmers and help rural villages become new tourism destinations


The culture of rural communities across India is disappearing. NotOnMap aims to protect the lifestyle of farmers and help rural villages to become new tourism destinations, from the mountainous northern region of Himachal Pradesh to the coast of Karnataka in the south-west. Restoring traditional houses and regenerating local crafts has helped reduce rural migration and create sustainable economies within the communities. Accommodation includes traditional thatched huts on an organic farm near Jaipur (from £5.40pn), and a 200-year-old house close to the Arabian Sea in Alleppey, Kerala (from £4.30pn).
notonmap.com

Sumba Hospitality Foundation, Indonesia

Poolside at Sumba’s eco-resort. Sumba Hospitality Foundation, Sumba Island, eastern Indonesia.



Poolside at Sumba’s eco-resort

This hotel-school development on Sumba island in eastern Indonesia, combines hospitality education for underprivileged young people with an eco-resort for travellers. Sumba is one of the region’s poorest islands and the school provides employment options for its young inhabitants, helping to break the circle of poverty. Students undertake work experience across nine guestrooms, which includes five en suite bamboo pavilions (£53 a night B&B) and four poolside guest rooms (£81). They also work on the hotel’s organic farm, and in the bar and restaurant. The island is twice the size of Bali but with a fraction of the number of visitors – its traditional villages and wild, uncrowded beaches and waterfalls making it a good alternative to the busier Lesser Sunda island.
sumbahospitalityfoundation.org

I Like Local, Asia and Africa

Three Indian people in a kitchen with bowls of ingredients for dishes they are preparing.


There is a broad range of off-the-beaten-track activities and accommodation available from this social enterprise, which operates in 19 countries across Asia and Africa. It helps create a sustainable income for guides and hosts, and offers local experiences for travellers beyond standard tourist attractions – from family homestays with indigenous communities, to cycling, crafts and cooking. Current activities include helping to produce and sell food in the market with Mam Dunia Bakery in Kibuye, Rwanda, run by a women’s cooperative (from £18pppn); and a cycling trip to see local artisans in Yogyakarta, on the island Java, Indonesia (£24, 2-4 hours).
i-likelocal.com

Other 2019 winners include PichaEats, helping refugee families in Malaysia cook and sell specialist delicacies; Hydrao, creating smart solutions for water conservation; Clean Travel, for its software for ethical startups; Avy, an autonomous, long-range drone, used for medical delivery and in conservation projects; and off-grid, green energy supplier Okra Solar.

WINNERS: 2018

Sakha Consulting Wings: Women on Wheels, India

A female taxi driver and female passenger in a car in India as part of Sakha Consulting Wings: Women on Wheels project.


Sakha’s Women on Wheels initiative provides opportunities for disadvantaged women to become chauffeurs and taxi drivers in urban areas around India, including Delhi, Jaipur and Kolkata. Through teaching them how to drive and read maps, plus self-defence and communication skills, Sakha hopes to enhance poor and marginalised women’s economic status, dignity, and decision-making within their families. Drivers can be booked via the website for short journeys or longer periods (from £4.50 for four hours).
sakhaconsultingwings.com

Tastemakers Africa

Musical group performs as part of Tastemakers Africa project.


Tastemakers Africa brings together artists, chefs, musicians and creative entrepreneurs hosting a new wave of tours and activities in cities such as Accra, Cape Town and Johannesburg, that aim “to push back against stereotypes in the African story”. The company wants to take visitors beyond safaris, to discover music, arts and cuisine. There are tours, for example, of the tailor-made fashion in Accra’s markets (£50, 4 hours), a public art and graffiti walk around Johannesburg (£50, 4 hours) among the many activities from local insiders.
tastemakersafrica.com

Other winners from 2018 are Global Himalayan Expedition, a tour company bringing renewable energy to remote communities; Keteka, a marketplace of local activities in Latin America; the Community Homestay Network, rerouting tourism to deprived regions in Nepal; HiveSters, which runs authentic urban tours in Thailand; accessible tour operator Wheel the World; Hotel Con Corazón, which reinvests profits back into education in Nicaragua and Mexico; food waste management equipment from Kitro, and Reflow, a company creates 3D printed designs from plastic waste.

HiveSters runs a tour of Bangkok Old Town, featuring the, pictured, Wat Ratchanadda temple.



HiveSters runs a tour of Bangkok Old Town, featuring the Wat Ratchanadda temple. Photograph: Prasit Rodphan/Alamy

WINNERS: 2017

Awake, Colombia

This community of nature guides around Colombia focuses on environmental tourism and conservation. By bringing travellers to projects in rural areas it increases the sustainable income of local hosts who are working to protect nature. Projects include conservation work to preserve the natural habitat of night monkeys on Mocagua island in the Amazon (£136, 3 days); and joining an ecological trail with the Seydukwa indigenous community near Palomino, on the Caribbean coast (£83, 2 days).
awake.travel

Authenticook, India

Eating with locals in their homes can be one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the local culture while travelling. For a real taste of home-cooking, the Authenticook platform connects travellers with home chefs hosting cookery lessons, breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Jaipur. Although private meals can be booked, the platform encourages travellers to join communal meals and classes – a vegetarian thali feast in Mumbai (£16) for instance, or at a Bengali cooking lesson in Kolkata – learning how to make crispy fish croquettes, flatbreads and chutneys (£16).
authenticook.com

Other 2017 winners included community-based tour operator, Local Alike; Backstreet Academy, commissioning locals to craft unusual travel experiences; the Good Hotel for its work investing in children’s education and training unemployed people; Seabin, a floating bin that cleans the ocean; Desolenator, a water purifier powered by solar energy; Visit.org, a marketplace for businesses to search for volunteering and team experiences; dual narrative tour operator Medji Tours; and skills-based volunteering programmes from MovingWorlds.

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips



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