Web Summit Lisbon 2018: Sustainable Travel Is Still Seen As a Trend (Unfortunately)

three speakers on stage during a conference at the web summit lisbon 2018

Web Summit Lisbon 2018 was my third edition, and I’m considering it to be my last. As a run-of-the-mill travel blogger at least. I proudly wore my badge of Women In Tech at the Web Summit 2016, despite other people in tech (women included) doubting that a blogger/web content writer could be considered a “woman in tech.” At the Web Summit 2017, I even more proudly flaunted my media credentials. Oh yes, flaunted. Shamelessly. You see, as a blogger, most events don’t consider me as media and therefore don’t hand me a media pass (I don’t hold a grudge, but I keep a list).

But going back to why Web Summit Lisbon 2018 will be my last as “just” a blogger. In the tourism industry, most companies haven’t understood the power of online media yet or the urgency of going after influencers in their niche rather than looking at the number of followers. Incidentally, this topic (or a version of it) comes up regularly at Web Summit conferences. However, there are other forums to discuss this.

Right now, I want to focus on the four travel startups that caught my attention. This year, I only attended for two days, so my time was limited. Less time on the venue meant more time to network and meet old and new clients, colleagues, and friends. As usual, I’ll address the selection criteria first.

The Selection Criteria

Every year, I expect people to become even more digital and ditch the business cards, flyers, and brochures. And every year I’m disappointed. All ticket holders have access to the Web Summit mobile app, which (magic!) allows you to connect with other ticket holders, message them, find out where their booth is (in my case it saves me so much time), and (behold!) scan and keep the contact details of each other.

Before each edition, I favorite all companies tagged as travel. Then, I browse each one of them to see if their product or mission fits the sustainable cultural tourism niche in any way. Here’s why I don’t even bother to take a second look at them:

  • You wrote a mean bio, but it still tells me nothing
  • You’re mainly a B2B business (nothing wrong with this but doesn’t fit Tripper)
  • Your website doesn’t work (dudes! hello? Web Summit?)
  • Your social media channels haven’t been updated in over a month
  • You read my in-app message and didn’t bother to reply (a simple “not interested” is enough)
  • You bothered to message me, but when I proposed an alternative way to meet/to connect, you went silent

Also, please read my blog’s niche before contacting me via the app. It saves us both so much time. Just because I’m tagged as travel, doesn’t mean that I’ll be interested in all travel-related businesses.

Now let’s focus on why I chose these four travel startups:

  1. I would use them
  2. They feel solid
    • They’ve been doing it for a while and/or
    • They’re set on what their future goal is and/or
    • They believe sustainable tourism is a need not a trend
  3. They put the balance between locals and visitors first

Try Portugal

I came across Try Portugal for the first time at the 2017 Web Summit but unfortunately was never able to talk to them because I could never find anyone at their booth. I might have brought a brochure home, but without the personal connection, I didn’t see the purpose in keeping it.

That said, and because I believe in second chances, I decided to give them another look this year. And I’m glad I did.

The company started in Fundão, a city in the center of Portugal, but spread out to other regions too. They don’t have an incredibly innovative product (and you know how at tech conferences like these a lot of people are looking only for the wow factor), but that’s fine. They did and do, however, have the courage to show a side of Portugal that most tourists would neglect out of lack of information.

Niche: active tourism to explore the natural and cultural heritage
Type of product/service: tour packages
Website: https://tryportugal.pt
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Easter mood #serradaestrela

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Guardians of Alentejo

Alentejo is famous worldwide as a wine-producing region, but few actually know or have visited Alentejo, besides maybe going on a day trip from Lisbon to Évora. Unfortunately, I’m included in that lot. It’s not that I don’t want to visit but I have no idea where to start, and to be honest, information on the region is not centralized.

The website Guardians of Alentejo should be fully operational soon, but I can talk about what makes it a great tool for sustainable tourism. Firstly, it focuses on all Alentejo regions, regardless if they’re more or less known for tourists. Secondly, it’s selective. By not listing all the businesses there are in Alentejo, it becomes a trusted source of information about sustainable options in Alentejo. And thirdly, it focuses on storytelling first. Each one of the Guardians has a connection to Alentejo, new or old, and each one of them tells the story behind their business. People buy from people, so the story is crucial to make that commitment.

Through the website, you’ll be able to book accommodation, restaurants, and experiences in Alentejo while supporting local businesses.

Niche: offbeat cultural tourism
Type of product/service: booking website
Website: http://www.meettheguardians.com
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Greener Act

This Madeira Island-based travel startup wants to connect responsible travelers with local businesses that follow the sustainable tourism principles. When I first saw this, I thought we were going down the same road of 2017, when every travel company on the face of the earth was sustainable. It was the year of sustainable tourism, and too many people followed the travel trend, not with the best of intentions. Of course, shams crack fast, and that’s mostly what happened.

Greener Act, however, started in 2014 so they’re not new to the sustainable travel niche. The app, though, was set to be officially launched at the Web Summit 2018. After reaching out to Greener Act, they informed me the app is due to launch by mid-January. I’ll keep you updated on the release date.

Before traveling, any user can see sustainable events or causes happening at their destination and choose to take part. The more the user engages in such activities, the higher the level he reaches from a beginner Greener Carer to an expert Greener Activist.

Niche: sustainable tourism
Type of product/service: mobile app connecting sustainable travelers with local businesses
Website: https://www.greeneract.com/

Like Locals

When Ijaz Khan contacted me via the Web Summit app about Like Locals, I was skeptical. The “like a local” expression has been so overused that it’s lost meaning and I cringe every time I see it. But, as I told myself before replying, that’s my interpretation, and it has nothing to do with their product.

A quick read through their website, and they sounded quite solid. I was even more certain of this when I met Ijaz, and he told me about the project. This last year, readers, fellow writers, and interviewers have been asking me this a lot: where do I go to find out how to minimize my negative impact as a tourist in Lisbon? Where is the reliable information?

Well, as much as I loved for my blog to answer all that, it’s still a work in process, and I can’t write as fast as the questions pop up in my email inbox. Also, and as Ijaz Khan pointed out while talking to me about his experiences as a traveler, the top ten Google results for a query don’t necessarily mean those are the best things to do in the city. It just means those websites have the best SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.

Decentralizing and getting people to explore beyond their comfort zone is crucial. But when you don’t know a city that well, how do you trust your gut? You follow a route someone else who knows the city well has designed for you without having to join a tour group.

The Like Locals app is available for iOS and Android. I’ve downloaded it during the Web Summit but haven’t had the time to use it yet. I will use it soon, though, and share my experience with you.

Niche: sustainable cultural tourism, urban adventures
Type of product/service: mobile app with exploration games for independent travelers
Website: https://likelocals.co.uk

What I Would Like To See More

As I become more and more an advocate for sustainable cultural tourism and conscious travel, I also wish more travel startups would follow suit. The future of tourism is sustainability. Otherwise, there will be nothing left to visit.

Selecting only four travel startups to talk to this year was painful. It made me realize the 11 of 2017 were just a fad. Maybe a couple of them have survived, only because they genuinely believe they can make a difference.

I also wish more companies would realize the importance of the tourism industry and how all stakeholders, from private companies to the government, can work together for the same goal. Yes, there’s room for tech in tourism too, and yes, it goes beyond improving the booking systems or short-term rental management!

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