The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has rolled out the second edition of its global flagship competition, “Awake Tourism Challenge." The competition will identify innovators who are advancing solutions to six challenges, besides contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For the 2022 challenge, UNWTO will focus on specific areas that can assist the recovery of the tourism sector in a disruptive way, and which deserve extra attention. Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of UNWTO said, “The return of tourism is a chance to awaken its potential to transform lives. UNWTO is calling on startups everywhere to put forward their ideas for meeting the biggest challenges our sector is facing and for making tourism a champion of the Sustainable Development Goals.” The areas are listed below:

  1. Community Involvement: 80 percent of people living in "extreme poverty" live in rural communities while domestic, rural and eco-tourism have emerged as the most popular travel choices.
  2. Green and Blue Economies: Tourism can be a source of economic opportunities and at the same time protect natural ecosystems.
  3. Ecological and Sustainable Capital Creation: Sustainable capital has the potential to optimize resource usage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a competitive edge for businesses.
  4. Tourism Tech for Good: Advancements in technology have revolutionized the sector, especially since the start of the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence, crypto, block chain, metaverse and NFTs are welcome in this category.
  5. Tourism Education: Despite representing 10 percent of the world’s jobs, there is a need for updated data, and new tools for education and skills development.
  6. Women Empowerment: Women tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid and lowest status jobs in tourism. Startups with a gender focus can be an important contributor to equality.

Organized in partnership with Wakalua, the first global innovation hub for tourism, powered by Ávoris, the competition also counts on the support of several partners, including SPARK, the Innovation Hub of Les Roches from the Sommet Education group; and Ankh Impact Ventures (AIV), a venture capital investment platform with a gender and racial equity lens. It also counts on public and private sector backing, with Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism, Singapore Tourism Board, KPMG, MasterCard, Amadeus, IE University, Telefonica, Wayra, ClarkeModet, The FarCo, BBVA, MentorDay, Finnova, Google for Startups, The Valley Digital Business School, the Future Food Institute and the Inter-American Development Bank all on board.

Startups are invited to participate provided they apply to one of the six challenges; include one or more SDGs; are innovative in nature and provide value-added solutions; are sustainability-driven; are scalable, with potential for international growth and potential to be applied in corporations and destinations (countries, regions); are an “Early Stage” or “Series A” startups; have a tested pilot and business plan; have been accelerated before; and have a full-time team already in place.

The 12 most disruptive startups (two for each of the challenges) will be given support to scale-up. UNWTO will present the best ideas to its Member States, Affiliate Members and investors, providing them with a networking opportunity. Additional benefits include the chance to pitch at a UNWTO Demo Day, and access to technological support and to the UNWTO Innovation network. They can also avail of a curated mentorship program with both one-on-one and group training sessions on key topics such as Intellectual Property, sustainability in business and leadership, possible seed funding for female Startup founders from ANKH Impact, and incubation for three months at the SPARK Innovation Lab.

Applications will close June 30, 2022. The winning startups will be announced in October.

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