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With challenges, a startup accelerator and close collaboration with the established industry, the Hub for Innovation in Tourism is pushing for more innovative tourism. And the opportunities to find a market in the industry as a startup are many.

This article is published in collaboration with Hub for Innovation in Tourism.

Tourism is bare feet in the sun, a cosy cottage and quality time with the family. But it’s also a huge industry.

In Denmark, tourism is the fourth largest export industry, generating more than DKK100B in turnover annually. Globally, the figures are even more staggering: Tourism contributes $5.800 trillion to the global economy and continues to grow rapidly.

This is also evident in the global startup ecosystem, where tourism startups have seen significant investments in recent years – e.g. in the UK, where traveltech startups raised £358M in 2020.

The trend hasn’t really taken off in Denmark yet, but the potential is clearly there.

“It’s a huge blue ocean for many solutions because the industry is behind on some digital parameters.

“It’s a huge blue ocean for many solutions because the industry is behind on some digital parameters. That’s why we want to help entrepreneurs who can challenge the status quo. We need to ensure that innovation in the industry continues to make it easy, convenient and enjoyable to be a tourist in Denmark,” says Heidi K. Dahl Larsen, Head of Secretariat, Hub for Innovation in Tourism (HIT).

Covers the whole chain

Tourism has yet to become a hyped vertical for startups. That’s why HIT wants to support entrepreneurs all the way: challenges in knowledge environments, an accelerator for startups, and advice and sparring with established companies that want to invite innovative solutions into tourism.

The chain starts in knowledge environments like universities, where HIT presents concrete challenges from tourism to students, challenging them to solve them. In this way, students get to work with a concrete demand in the market, and this has already proven to be a viable model.

“After the first challenges in the autumn, we had three applicants to our startup accelerator who had born their idea during our challenges. So we can see that serving them a concrete industry challenge is inspiring and provides a good starting point for a sustainable idea,” says Heidi K. Dahl Larsen.

The startups that are actually accepted into the accelerator are at very different stages of their growth journey. Here, they get the chance to develop the idea further and test it in the marketplace in collaboration with the established industry – who may eventually become customers or partners.

“Tourism is an industry that is very seasonal: there is simply nothing that can go wrong when you are in the middle of high season and running at maximum capacity. That’s why it’s not just about getting corporates to become customers, but also about sparring early on so that entrepreneurs know what they need to address if they are to succeed in the market,” says Heidi K. Dahl Larsen.

Photo: Mette Johnsen.

Tourism startup without tourism

TripAdvisor and Airbnb are two of the shining beacons of traveltech that have had a major and direct impact on the industry globally. But HIT is also very much looking for startups that don’t necessarily see themselves as suppliers to tourism from the start.
In fact, only 16 per cent of the 88 startups that have gone through the tourism accelerator are from traditional tourism sectors, while the rest are ICT companies, for example.

“The rest come from other industries but want to test whether their solutions match a need in tourism. There are many good examples and cases that have got new business out of going into tourism. That’s why we also spend a lot of time screening and scouting for startups that are active in other industries and that we think can get a really good business out of going into tourism,” explains Heidi K. Dahl Larsen.

These include Flow Loop, which had targeted its shower solution, which recycles 80 per cent water and saves 70 per cent energy, at fitness centres, among others. And startup The New Sort, which offered waste sorting widely. Both now have go-to-market strategies for the tourism industry.

“Even if the companies don’t see themselves as a tourism startup, to begin with, we can help with the knowledge, insights and networks that can turn this into a big new business opportunity for them”

“Even if the companies don’t see themselves as a tourism startup, to begin with, we can help with the knowledge, insights and networks that can turn this into a big new business opportunity for them,” says Heidi K. Dahl. Larsen.

HIT is a partnership between Danish Coastal and Nature Tourism, MeetDenmark and Danish City Tourism.
Erhvervshusene, Danske Destinationer and AAU Innovation are partners in the project.
The Danish Business Promotion Board has allocated funds from REACT-EU to the project.

HIT supports the phases of the ecosystem

  • Challenges: The pipeline of entrepreneurs starts in the knowledge environments. Here, HIT puts tourism on the agenda through challenges, where students are challenged to solve specific needs in the industry – which can later become an actual, knowledge-based startup.
  • Accelerator: Every six months, a new cohort starts in the HIT accelerator, which supports entrepreneurs’ entry into the tourism industry. Here they get access to sparring, knowledge and networks.
  • Corporates: HIT facilitates contact between startups and the established tourism industry. Partly to strengthen the startups’ network in the established industry, but also to mature the established tourism industry to make use of these new solutions from startups.

The article is part of the magazine “The Guide – A comprehensive overview of the Danish startup ecosystem”, published by Heyfunding and

Read the full magazine here: