Leading telecoms and digital services provider PLDT, recently gathered startups in its Innolab in Cebu to vie for top spot in its Startup Studio challenge titled “A Travel to Disrupt”. The competition, which aimed to find unique digital solutions for the tourism industry in the country, gave the participants a chance to present their qualifying entries.
Joey Limjap, PLDT vice-president and head of ICT Research and Development said “Our goal is for Innolab to be at the forefront of technology, which is why we want it to be a hub where thinkers, researchers and visionaries are gathered under one roof.”
Limjap, who welcomed the audience, talked about Innolab’s longtime partnership with IdeaSpace Foundation and its support for events for developers such as the recent Google Developer Group Philippines DevFest and Android Masters as part of PLDT’s thrust to be a pioneer on the digital front.
The ICT R&D head said the focus for this second event in the Startup Studio series is on tourism. “PLDT plays a major role in nation-building and economic growth. We see a lot of potential and opportunity for our tourism market because the Philippines is a very beautiful country. All over the world, ICT has been transforming the tourism industry, through technology we (PLDT) can help enhance the tourism experience and attract a bigger share of this lucrative market,” Limjap said.
A Travel to Disrupt drew a wide-range of innovators seeking to address various needs of the different segments of the tourism industry such as competitiveness of tourism providers, supply and demand of packages, and customizing and individualizing the tourist experience.
Paul So, one of the judges for the competition, also gave an overview of the tourism landscape which is a $5.5 billion-a-year industry for the Philippines. Mr. So who is the executive vice president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) lauded PLDT’s initiative for creating the event.
“It is very good for PLDT to do such a thing for tourism. It shows they are very serious about it. I hope PLDT will continue to sponsor and support tourism events. We can even look into a forum with the industry people,” he said.
The daylong event also included talks from Andy Santos, head of PLDT ICT-ICDev, who gave an overview of the OFW market and John Dave del Rosario, Associate for Community Development of IdeaSpace, who discussed the startup ecosystem.
Seven teams who qualified for the competition explained the concept behind their different enterprise solutions (Tara, JuanBox, Flybout, PHTourPal, Lakbay Asia, Outpax and BoltOut), talked about its key features and functionalities, discussed its target market, monetization and business models, and why their team is the best team to roll out the solution.
The teams’ pitches were then judged based on the actual presentation, general appeal, viability, technology, and features. Judges were Nash Sevillo of PLDT Disruptive Business Group, Joshua Montecillo of PLDT SME, Andy Santos, Joey Limjap and Paul So.
The winning group that bagged first place for Startup Studio ‘A Travel to Disrupt’ was the BoltOut team consisting of Roel Chan, Carlos Libosada Jr., and Mike Monroe Yu who all came with a tourism background and substantial experience in the field.
Placing second was Lakbay Asia, a platform that allows different tour providers to upload their tour packages in order to ensure value for money packages for travelers. In third place was Outpax, a platform that creates a social network for outdoor enthusiasts where users can choose or organize their own travel adventures.
Winners were given free Innolab co-working space for three months; giveaways from Innolab, IdeaSpace, Zinergi, and PLDT SME; gadgets; and a chance to partner with PLDT ALPHA Enterprise, PLDT SME and PLDT Global.
According to Chan, who is a marketing tourism faculty at the University of the Philippines Asian Institute of Tourism, the country’s tourism market is underserved with only 721 accredited tour guides serving a market of over 50 million tourists.
The group’s platform BoltOut which they have planned and worked on for ten months, aims to develop supply and promote demand simultaneously. The app already in the pilot phase of its first version, gives qualified tour guides direct access to the market where they can access the details and location of the tour, and the number of participants. Tour guides have to undergo accreditation, helping flush out fly-by-night guides, and are paid based on value and not the participant head count.
For the day-tripper they simply have to pick a tour, pay for their slot, invite their friends through Facebook who will then be notified. As more people join the tour the cost for each individual drops, and after the trip, participants can rate their tour guide. The performance-based algorithm and feedback mechanism allows them to see if tour guides need to be recalibrated for training. If users are not satisfied with their experience they are given their money back.
Chan said that they joined the competition because they know how relevant the sector is and they are exposed to the issues and opportunities because of their background. “All trends and economic forecasts will tell you that tourism is the next big thing and we are probably at the right place, at the right time, and with the right vision,”
Mike Monroe Yu, founder of Hack &Hustle Digital Inc., said they are looking forward to collaborating with Innolab and PLDT in general. “I think PLDT plays a big role in the connectivity of the tour guides. PLDT has the infrastructure and we can leverage on the infrastructure that they have to help it (our platform) grow faster.”
“For a startup like us, no matter how simple or grand the activity, the influence of PLDT is there. We believe PLDT has the means, the resources and most especially the vision. We are of a generation right now where corporate citizenship plays a big role. Issues on tourism are not news, it’s about time we try to find a solution ourselves and stop complaining. The backing and resources of PLDT is going to be the accelerator that everyone needs for these problems to be solved,” added Chan.