Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of global cyber security firm Kaspersky, has launched a Russia-orientated travel accelerator programme to help tourism startups affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The stated goal of the Kaspersky Exploring Russia accelerator is to help gather the most interesting and promising tourism projects together in one place, which will then be supported with funding and resources from Kaspersky as a company.
“The coronavirus pandemic has not only become a tragic international experience, but also a time of unity, mutual assistance and support,” said Kaspersky. “In addition to continuing to maintain security in cyber space, this period has presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to help travel startups.
“Our team, including me personally, wish to provide a platform from which to help entrepreneurs within this beleaguered industry see their ideas come to fruition. This will include marketing and media support, as well as creating a forum for them to attract both attention and investment from large companies, businesses and foundations.”
Kaspersky told Computer Weekly that although his native Russia has “endless opportunities” for tourism, its travel infrastructure leaves much to be desired.
“Logistics can be difficult, not all regions have great accommodation – there are many problems to be solved,” he said. “We hope our accelerator project will help with both opening up Russia as a tourist destination, and boosting new businesses on the Russian market as well as those that are located elsewhere but which can help develop Russia’s tourism potential.
“We don’t have any specific plans now, but if the project is successful, we may continue in other regions of the world.”
All participants, who have until 29 May to apply, will be categorised into one of four sectors. These are: “travel tech” for technology-focused projects; “infrastructure track” for projects that make travel more accessible or create the infrastructure for it; “sustainability” for business projects that have a positive impact on sustainable development; and “social tech” for projects that are socially significant in the field of travel and tourism.
According to Kaspersky, it was decided to split participants into these four categories to ensure they received advice and guidance from people with the correct professional backgrounds, although each will receive the same level of support.
At the end of the accelerator programme, a jury comprising Kaspersky, representatives from his company and experts from the travel industry will select the most promising projects.
The winner will receive an educational grant, while the second- and third-placed startups will get marketing support and software subscriptions tailored to their business needs.
Kaspersky said that although his company has “no certain plans of becoming shareholders of the startups”, it will consider taking projects on board to its Innovation Hub if it looks like they would fit well.
A December 2019 report by the World Tourism Organisation and the International Transport Forum showed that transport-related emissions from the tourism sector were expected to account for 5.3% of all man-made CO2 by 2030, up from 5% in 2016.
It also found that, between 2016 and 2030, international and domestic arrivals are expected to increase from 20 billion to 37 billion, driven mainly by domestic tourism (up from 18.8 billion to 35.6 billion), followed by international arrivals (1.2 billion up to 1.8 billion).
“Some will say that popularising travel to and in a certain area will kill sustainability and lead to crowds of tourists and disturbance of the micro-climate,” said Kaspersky. “I am sure that we all need to find a way to overcome this problem.
“The past century has given us a giant leap in tourist flows – thanks to the development of aviation and, of course, technology. Travel is no longer a privilege of the rich, although some places are still difficult to reach and explore on a small budget. I think a perfect balance is yet to be found in this aspect.”
Kaspersky added: “How do we keep travel accessible and at the same time prevent “over-tourism”, pollution and destruction of cultural heritage? I’m sure that the fact that there are more and more new projects putting sustainability first is a sign that we’re on the right path to finding this balance.”
Asked how travel companies can avoid “greenwashing” their sustainability offerings, Kaspersky said that although he was no expert on the subject, stricter norms or regulations on using certain marketing promises could help.
“Generally, I don’t like any marketing fraud, but exploiting people’s belief in the greater good without really following through on your promise is just wrong and unethical,” he said. “Something has to be done about such deception – it can’t be left unpunished.”