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Seeking startups promoting the sustainable tourism of the future

The World Tourism Organization and the innovation hub Wakalua, working in collaboration with companies like BBVA, have launched a competition for startups in the world of tourism to find technological and innovative solutions that respond to the sector’s sustainability challenges.


The coronavirus crisis has put the brakes on the tourism sector, one of the worst affected by the pandemic and a critical area of economic activity. This interval has provided time for us to reflect on the consequences that tourism activities were having, and has forced the transformation that the sector was experiencing to speed up. Now, more than ever, with sustainability as a banner.

On the one hand, the economic impact of tourism is undeniable: in Spain it accounts for 11% of GDP and almost 13% of employment, according to data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute. At the worldwide level, both figures are around 10%. However, the other side of the coin reflects that the mass movement of tourists has negative effects, particularly for the environment - tourism is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study published in ‘Nature Climate Change’. A figure that rises as the number of tourists increases, and that is a number that never stops rising.

Startups could be key to driving the green transformation of this sector. For that reason, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the Globalia group’s tourism innovation hub Wakalua have organised a competition to look for innovative, disruptive solutions that also consider the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All of this within the context of the new normality, as indicated by Secretary General of the WTO, Zurab Pololikashviki: "This competition will unite all sectors around efforts to achieve the SDGs and will place innovation and sustainability at the centre of global economic recovery".

As part of its engagement with open innovation, as well as its commitment to achieving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), BBVA is collaborating in this contest by helping to appraise the startups during the competition. In addition, the chosen companies will be evaluated later with the possibility of taking part in the BBVA Fast Track programme, designed to streamline the bank’s collaboration with emerging companies through pilots and proofs of concept. As well as the bank, other companies such as Google, Amazon and Amadeus are collaborating in the competition.

"The pandemic has hit society and the world at large, but now we have a great opportunity to face this challenge in a spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration. There’s no better time to help solve the challenges facing the world", states Ainhoa Campo, Global Head of Open Innovation at BBVA.


BBVA’s commitment to sustainability is centred around the 2025 Commitment, through which it will mobilise €100 billion in sustainable financing. The organisation is one of the 30 founding banks of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Banking, which define the role of the sector in moving towards a more sustainable world. BBVA was the first bank in the world to launch a green ‘CoCo’ issue and aims to ensure that all its products, for large companies, institutions, SMEs or individuals, have a sustainable solution. It has also created a transactional product framework that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Startups for tourism

The Sustainable Development Goals Global Startup Competition is not just looking for innovators and entrepreneurs related to tourism. Startups from all sectors and from any corner of the world can also get involved as long as they are innovative, sustainable and scalable, and have a full-time team. Specific terms and conditions can be found here, and registrations are open until 20th September.

After the competition, 17 startups will be chosen - one for each of the SDGs. They will gain visibility and have the possibility of presenting their project worldwide with a pitch at a WTO demo day. They will also enjoy personalised mentoring, access to tech support, a connection with the WTO innovation network and the possibility of developing pilot projects with private sector partners and institutions.

A platform to overcome the pandemic

This new competition for startups brings together not only the need to shift towards a greener and fairer future, but also the duty that tourism has to contribute to the economic recovery following coronavirus.

At the WTO they believe that "the proven capacity for recovery and the dynamic nature of tourism can be leveraged to support and strengthen the post-pandemic recovery".  This is not only from a practical point of view, but also emotionally. "By bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust – crucial ingredients in advancing the global cooperation that is so urgently needed at this time", states UN Secretary General António Guterres.

"There’s no better time to help solve the challenges facing the world"

As they say at Wakalua, it’s only through innovation and cooperation that we’ll be able to create sustainable solutions in tourism for future generations. At BBVA, Campo corroborates this: “Collaboration between institutions, large companies and startups is the key to creating opportunities for everyone. Now is the time to work together for sustainable development."