Startups with innovative ideas for the travel industry are invited to apply for a three-month incubator program being offered by Marriott, Accenture and 1776.

The Travel Experience Incubator Challenge was announced earlier this week and applications are being accepted through August 7. As of July 20, there were already 32 applicants, and there will be a total of 5-7 startups chosen for the program. Anyone interested can apply online through the Travel Experience Incubator. Winning startups will participate in the program beginning in September this year.

One of the reasons for the challenge is because a new Accenture study shows that millennials are twice as likely to switch hotel providers. The travel industry needs to transform in order to provide more personalized experiences to appeal to this market. The incubator is intended to develop solutions to appeal to a broad audience including leisure and business travelers.

“If we can bring the power of all three of these organizations together and leverage the networks and startups to get innovation and new ideas to solve real business problems for Marriott and travel in general, it’s going to be wonderful,” said Paul Loftus, senior managing director at Accenture Travel.

SEE: The most useful iOS travel apps for business professionals (TechRepublic)

There are four areas that the challenge will focus on:

  • Dream and Discovery: Solutions that create or enable immersive experiences, provide new or improved opportunities for travel discovery, research and shopping through online/offline travel agencies, compare corporate managed travel, and improve the reservation, confirmation, and cancellation experiences.
  • Plan and Anticipate: Solutions that provide new opportunities in travel social media/management platforms, planning and logistics, flexible pricing and upselling, group travel, payment and financial services, and transit and luggage services.
  • The Hotel and Local Experiences: Solutions that improve the in-person experience stay, where digital and physical converge, from gamification of experiences to food and beverage, retail and wellness opportunities.
  • Customer Engagement and Advocacy: Solutions that drive loyalty, brand advocacy, or engage customers in repeat stays through a targeted and personalized experience as well as non-stay experiences (i.e. guests from the community who are not staying in the hotel).

Business travel will be a component of the challenge

“Business travel is a big chunk of our business, obviously, and I am most certain that these startups that we will work with in the course of this challenge will be particularly geared toward business travel,” said Stephanie Linnartz, global chief commercial officer for Marriott. Marriott operates more than 6,000 hotels across 30 brands worldwide.

Business travel often provides little time to experience a city. Some of the types of innovative solutions that might appeal to business travelers could be providing the ability to make the most of the spare hours they might have between meetings and adding experiences that will enhance their stay, said Evan Burfield, CEO of 1776.

“As a very frequent business traveler myself, your world can often seem unbelievably generic. You fly the same airlines, you stay in the same hotels. It’s great you’re getting a consistent experience, but you’re not necessarily getting an experience that’s unique to that city,” Burfield said.

“When we say travel experience, the word experience is crucial. A rapid increase in business travelers are millennials. They’re bringing that same experience driven lifestyle to business that they bring to their personal lives,” Burfield said.

Marriott will work with startups to create the sense of connection and sense of place, and allow travelers personalized opportunities to experience the city that they’re in, Burfield said.

Open to a broad range of companies

The challenge is open to a broad range of companies around every aspect of travel. “We’re thinking about this as an opportunity to get new, fresh, innovative ideas around the entire travel experience,” Linnartz said.

“The outcome will hopefully be some really cool new ideas we can implement in our hotels. I’m sure they won’t all be equally raging successes because that’s not the way life works out … but if it’s a really cool idea that we can’t actually implement in all of our hotels, maybe we can do it for one brand, or do a piece of it. I think this whole thing will bring new ideas to the table that none of us can do on our own,” Linnartz said.

Top three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. The Travel Experience Incubator Challenge was announced earlier this week and applications are being accepted through August 7.
  2. Marriott, Accenture and 1776 are partnering to offer the challenge, which will culminate in 5-7 startups being selected for a program that will begin in September.
  3. Business travelers will benefit from the results of the challenge, with the possibility of finding new ways for them to better experience the city where they are visiting for business purposes.

Also see: