Business Management
3 min read

12 most innovative sustainable travel and hospitality start-ups

Natacha Reymond
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In response to consumer concerns over sustainability and to give industry players an edge in an increasingly competitive market, hotels, airlines, booking agents and tour operators —among others— have been developing a host of innovative sustainable travel start-ups.

In fact, sustainable innovation has become so sought-after that in July, in the midst of the pandemic, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)— the UN agency responsible for promoting sustainable, accessible and inclusive tourism—launched a startup competition to identify particularly promising new businesses. The competition attracted more than 10,000 participants from 138 countries; winners were announced in February. As UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “The winners show the power of new ideas for transforming our sector.” Winning startups will receive support to develop their ideas further through guided mentorship programs with Amadeus, Google, IE University and FarCo.


EHL's Innovation Village

EHL has been at the forefront of innovation in the hospitality sector for years and in 2009, launched an incubator for the development of new concepts. The initiative was so successful, that nine years later, EHL’s own Innovation Village was launched with the goal of supporting entrepreneurship and disrupting the hospitality industry, with a particular emphasis on sustainability. Over the years, the Village has evolved into a dynamic learning and experimentation center for students and a source of research and talent for companies.


Showcasing the sustainable travel and hospitality start-ups launched at EHL 

  • One-StepUp, an initiative founded by Jeanne Guerlais to encourage businesses to rethink packaging and reduce the use of plastic that is polluting oceans, soils and compromising the health of future generations. The firm works only with European companies to find alternative packaging solutions including, for example, bags made from compostable cellulose and homecompostable certified hot beverage cups. R-PET is the direction that the food industry is taking to go further. Today the start-up with a team of 3 is providing big company names in Switzerland such as Manor.

I am not saying that this is the end of plastic, but our wish is to find a strategy for a sustainable management of plastics in the sense of a circular economy. - Jeanne Guerlais, One-StepUp

  • With a team of 12, Swiss start-up KITRO uses AI provide food waste data collection and analysis to companies. By providing an automated overview of their waste stream, KITRO enables businesses us to make targeted changes to increase efficiency and reduce waste and cost.
  • Initially supported by EHL during a pilot program that started in 2012, Beelong was founded in 2014 to bring greater transparency, traceability and sustainability to the food industry. Today, the firm works with food companies and caterers concerned about the future of our planet and who want to gain greater insight into the environmental impact of the foods they’re sourcing.

Providing simple environmental information is key to helping our society move towards a greener future, and the current lack of transparency on food products is what drives me to raise awareness on the major environmental issues of our actual diets. The EHL incubator provides us the perfect environment to carry out our mission. - Charlotte de La Baume, Beelong

Ecoscore BeelongThe Ecoscore by Beelong

Sustainable travel and hospitality start-ups

Meeting a growing demand for authentic travel experiences

Sustainable innovation reaches far beyond the boundaries of EHL, with exciting new start-ups launching all the time. Among the hottest areas in sustainable innovation is experiential tourism. While the pandemic has created pent-up demand to travel, the social isolation that people have endured during the past year means they’re looking forward to not just touring cities and relaxing on beaches but connecting with people. And a growing number of startups are responding to that desire for authentic connection. Here are a few examples; there are dozens more.


Authentic travel experienceImage from Tastemakers Africa

  • French start-up Partasam recently launched com, a collaborative platform that allows travelers to get in touch with locals for tips and advice. Within six months, the multilingual platform already registered members from more than 25 countries.
  • Tastemakers Africa brings together artists, chefs, musicians and creative entrepreneurs to host tours and activities that go beyond stereotypical safaris and allow visitors to discover music, arts and cuisine.
  • The B-Certified, Barcelona-based online startup Authenticitys designs local experiences that drive social change.
  • I Like Local runs tours in 19 countries across Asia and Africa with the goal of creating a source of sustainable income for guides and hosts while providing travelers with off-the-beaten track experiences including family homestays with indigenous communities, cycling, crafts and cooking.
  • And Fair Voyage is on a mission to make sustainable travel easyby connecting travellers with verified local companies

While the pandemic has given operators plenty of time to rethink their business objectives and reinvent themselves, a number of them are responding to travelers’ desire to stay close to home and avoid air travel. For example, a new British operator founded Byway specializing custom journeys by train, boat and bike to off-the-beaten corners of Europe.

And banking on people’s desire to share their experiences with their social networks, the Portuguese company Live Electric Tours provides self-drive experiences in electric vehicles equipped with internet and camera, which allows travelers to keep friends and family up to date if not bring them along on a virtual tour.


Start-ups helping airlines to reduce and offset carbon emissions

In response to the increased pressure on airlines to reduce and offset their carbon emissions, most airlines have adopted zero-net emissions targets and are working to develop alternative biofuels. A number of start-ups are facilitating that transition.

Reduced thrust takeoffImage from OpenAirlines

  • Since 2006, Toulouse-based OpenAirlines has been supporting reduced fuel consumption for airlines by using big data from flight recorders to optimize flight paths.
  • Bulgarian startup CO2 Cards offers a carbon-offsetting solution enabling online travel agencies, car and delivery services, for example, to calculate the carbon footprint of their clients’ orders and integrate offsetting options into their ticketing systems.

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