BookingSamoa wins Seedstars, eyes regional prize

A business start-up that set up an online travel service targeting local small to medium-sized enterprises is the winner of the Seedstars competition in Samoa and will now move to compete at the regional level.

BookingSamoa – a business start-up created by residents, Geoff Cullen and Kevin Hartin – will now compete with entrepreneurs from the Asia Pacific region with the finalists moving to the grand finale where a global winner will be announced. 

Mr. Hartin is an IT expert and has been a resident in Samoa for seven years while Mr. Cullen is a tourism expert from Moree, New South Wales who's lived in Samoa for over 11 years. 

One of the competition judges and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Assistant Director, Stephanie Kimber, commended the pitch by the duo saying that it was a well-thought concept that took into account small to medium-sized enterprise in Samoa and is a solid business plan.

"I think BookingSamoa was a fantastic pitch and they obviously have such deep expertise of the context and I love the development impact potential by linking in these smaller family-operated businesses and connecting them with a global travelling audience," she emphasised.

"I thought they provided an additional value in that the breadth of the experiences that you can book through there is not just the accommodation but it’s the tourism experiences.

“It might be cultural experiences and perhaps it could also expand into buying products from local artisans after you’ve had your adventure." 

Mr Hartin and Mr Cullen thanked the Seedstars Project Manager, Giovanni Carradini, who announced the winner virtually and also thanked all the participants of the competition. 

In a live stream Seedstars Samoa Broadcast on YouTube, Mr Hartin said that they joined the Seedstars competition because they believed in their product. 

"We joined the Seedstars competition because number one we thought we got a pretty good product but in reality already, it’s only been a short journey so far, and we’ve really sharpened our pitching technique, we learning from others and we’re looking at how to focus on the best part of our business and presenting that to people," he said.

Mr Hartin said there are limited opportunities in Samoa for start-up businesses, and participating in the competition would allow them to acquire international experience.

"Working with other people who have similar ideas or as in starting up a new business looking for a bit of assistance, this really is a good thing and again helps us look at our business, take a step back, focus on what we need to do but also how we present that to other people," he added. 

Mr Cullen spoke of the benefits of the SME-targeted online travel system. 

"By giving them tools to help them do business, but also by putting them out there in front of the world, most of them aren’t represented or book-able at the moment and that’s what we’ll help them do and for tourists or visitors to Samoa, for the first time they’re really hard to find until we come along," he said.

BookingSamoa will offer small to medium-sized local enterprises tools to operate their businesses and also would be good exposure for them.

When the duo pitched for the competition they outlined three major problems they have found amongst local tourism operators. 

One issue is that tourism SME do not have access to the same technology as larger operators with the cost imposed by established online travel agents excessive, and that there is no single marketplace for tourists to book Samoan tourism products. 

They then offered a solution to address these problems. 

"There is a lack of uptake of trending technologies to enable tourists to directly book with many local operators, access to information, effective communication and the ability to execute online bookings and payments were in dire need of an integrated solution," added Mr Hartin.

"Solution built is much more than a website; it’s an integrated platform that addresses each of the three problems and more. We do this in a manner that does not demand that our supplier partners radically change their business operations. 

"Instead we provide tools and facilities that they're already familiar with to enhance their operation and deliver a world-class service level to tourists customers." 

The aim of Seedstars work is to identify promising entrepreneurs heading up high-growth companies in emerging markets and to provide those ventures with customized and responsive support to help them develop profitable companies that can have a broader impact. 

Eight business startups were selected from a list of 35 to compete in the Apia competition with the online travel agent concept – designed specifically around the needs of small, medium enterprises here in Samoa by Mr Hartin and Mr Cullen – getting the nod.

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