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Countries lack a playbook in coping with the pandemic's effect on tourism, but Scotland is one to watch when it comes to its new effort to boost its travel tech sector.

Scotland wants to plant the seeds for recovery following the coronavirus pandemic. Edinburgh on Tuesday debuted Traveltech for Scotland, a public-private partnership aiming to support travel technology companies and use their talent to aid the tourism industry.

Investing in the travel sector might not seem an obvious move for a nation facing recession. But Scotland charts its own path. Scottish Enterprise has joined with the European Regional Development Fund to put together a three-year, about $450,000 (£342,000) project to build a supportive network for travel tech companies. The University of Edinburgh will lead the effort to create a so-called travel tech cluster, or informal, no-fee membership network.

“Our priority is to help get tourism reopening via the tech solutions already out there,” said Joshua Ryan-Saha, director of Traveltech for Scotland. “We’re thinking things like contactless tech for check-in and digital methods for helping tourism-related businesses boost the quality of their online bookings.”

Leaders noticed that the nation is already home to travel deal search brand Skyscanner, hotel guest app maker Criton, and property reservation software provider FreeToBook.

scotland tourist source enterprise scotland

A hiker in Scotland. Source: Traveltech for Scotland

“We’ll help support and speed up innovation and the international growth of Scottish travel tech brands,” Ryan-Saha said. “We also want to create a directory so that Scottish tourism companies can find tech solutions on their doorstep.”

The project aims to encourage collaboration, help inform the government about the best ways to support the sector’s growth through grants and loans, look at partnerships with other tech industry innovation organizations, and encourage outside private investment in the nation’s companies.

An inspiration is an award winning cluster that Scotland created to support the fintech, or financial technology, sector. Scotland credits a boost in that sector to a years long, coordinated effort led by government, universities, and other players.

But some people are skeptical of innovation efforts that are lightly structured, given that fostering high-quality networks isn’t easy.

During an interview (done beforehand and without knowledge of the Scottish effort), John Mullins, associate professor of management practice in marketing and entrepreneurship at London Business School, glossed on some typical factors that need to be accounted for when evaluating innovation efforts worldwide.

“It’s not clear to me that we need to incentivize startups,” Mullins said. “The world has lots of startups, but it doesn’t have many startups that grow, and grow fast.”

When it comes to helping that second category of companies, Mullins said he was skeptical of the value of startup incubators, tax incentives, and many other programs. But he said he did believe that if a project could identify young companies with proven track records and help them get access to capital, then it might speed up their growth.

“If you tap into successful startups that have customer traction and now need capital to grow, getting them more of the capital could have real upside,” Mullins said.

Traveltech for Scotland does see a potential to help match companies with capital sources.

“What we hope to achieve over time is to attract more investment to these companies by linking into some of the successful startup programs we have in Scotland like the Geovation accelerator, Telefonica’s scale-up program Wayra, and the University of Edinburgh’s accelerator program,” Ryan-Saha said.

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Tags: incubator, scotland, startups, startups europe, travel tech, travel technology, universities, visitscotland

Photo credit: Scottish Highlands Robert J. Heath / Flickr

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