Bamboo Lao from Luang Prabang, Lao PDR beat 111 competitors from across Southeast Asia to take top prize in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) challenge. The elite travel startup competition receives support from the Australian Government and the Asian Development Bank and counts Asia’s most prominent travel-specialized venture capitalists among its advisors. MIST’s top prize comes with a $10,000 USD innovation grant.
Bamboo Lao is on a mission to eliminate single use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia. They have produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws as well as other bamboo serving ware, using special breeds of bamboo and a proprietary natural treatment process. Their straws – which are in use in Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as on EXO Travel tours – have already displaced the use of more than 5,000,000 single use plastic straws.
“The MIST innovation grant is money we desperately need in order to scale up production from one to three villages. We have received international orders for as many as 100,000 straws, and we must invest in the capacity to meet that kind of demand,” said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune.
Vietnamese startup Ecohost took MIST’s second prize and received a $5,000 USD grant. Ecohost enables quality experiences in the Vietnamese countryside, working village-by-village to develop tours and activities while improving the capacity of rural homestays to serve international guests.
The two-year-old MIST program supports high-growth-potential emerging market startups in travel and hospitality – especially startups making a positive impact on communities, cultures, and the environment. The program’s five 2018 finalists completed a weeklong bootcamp on business fundamentals, received five months of coaching, and showcased their business models at four events: the MIST semi-finalist pitch competition in Ho Chi Minh City, June’s Mekong Tourism Forum (Nakhon Phanom, Thailand), a final investor pitch in Singapore, and the Mekong Travel Startup Forum at Singapore’s ITB-Asia travel trade fair.
“The Greater Mekong Subregion includes the fastest growing tourism destinations on earth, which creates enormous economic opportunity even as it places the region’s travel industry under unprecedented pressure to innovate. MIST’s uniqueness in the global travel industry is underscored by its winners Bamboo Lao and Ecohost. These entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge of innovating practical local solutions to real industry problems and needs,” said Jens Thraenhart, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office. The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office administers MIST with the endorsement of the Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam national tourism organizations.