Female Founders, Travel Tech in Scotland

2022 continues to be a challenging year for many businesses, with the pandemic still having an impact, costs rising across materials and services, and fresh uncertainty due to the conflict in Ukraine.

However, one area that has shown continued resilience and growth is “traveltech”, and in Scotland there are several women entrepreneurs blazing a trail in this sector.

Traveltech startups offer digital solutions to modernise tourism, transport and hospitality. Skyscanner is perhaps the best known of these, having grown from humble beginnings in Edinburgh to become a global search engine and travel agency available in over 30 languages and used by 100 million people per month.

The traveltech trend looks set to grow – according to a Tech Nation report published toward the end of last year, over £1bn was raised by traveltech companies in the last 3 years.

Let’s meet some of the women entrepreneurs transforming tourism with tech.

Meet Julie Grieve, Founder & CEO, Criton

Julie Grieve is the founder and CEO of Criton, a guest engagement and integrations platform for the hospitality sector. Criton simplifies digital transformation by creating a branded guest app which integrates all of the hotel’s guest facing technology.

Julie set up and was CEO of Lateral City, a luxury serviced apartment operator in Scotland which is where she had the idea for Criton. Her vision for Criton is to give independent operators access to big chain technology.

Julie is also a Director of Women in Tourism and an Ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland.

Julie Grieve, Criton

“Demand for our product has grown significantly due to the pandemic”

Criton app used by BalbirnieJulie Grieve’s company Criton allows independent hotels to offer guests a fully digital journey, from check-in and mobile door keys to ordering food and drink, all through their phone. Julie launched it in 2016 after experiencing her own frustration.

“I was setting up a luxury serviced apartment business and I wanted to digitise the guest information, which was constantly changing and communicate with guests pre, during and post stay. However the cost for an app, similar to what the chains were offering was extortionate and out of the reach of an independent operator. I googled Wordpress for app builders and it didn’t exist.

“I thought this was something that other hoteliers might also find of use and so I started to do some research and eventually started Criton to help hoteliers offer a digital guest journey.”

Julie is confident she has tapped into an area of growing interest.

“Demand for our product has grown significantly due to the pandemic as it allows hotels to offer a fully contactless guest journey, so I expect we will continue going from strength to strength.

“Tourism is of huge importance to Scotland and over the past few years we have grown a wide range of traveltech businesses. The significant issues faced by tourism in terms of staffing is driving a need for technology to aid efficiencies. There are lots of opportunities for operators and technology vendors.”

Meet Nikki Gibson, Founder, Swurf

Edinburgh-based businesswoman and entrepreneur Nikki Gibson has a career spanning 25 years in hospitality. Most recently Nikki founded SWURF, an innovative work surfing app connecting the new remote workforce with welcoming work spaces in the hospitality sector. Nikki is also co-owner and Managing Director of Naked Events, a bespoke venue agency of 14 years.

Nikki Gibson, Swurf

“I realised I needed to stop worrying about what I couldn’t control and focus on what I could.”

Swurf image of women coworkingNikki Gibson’s company, Swurf, which helps home-workers browse, book and use interesting work spaces, was started during the pandemic when her events company lost business overnight after twelve years of success.

“I have worked in hospitality my entire career. All revenue streams stopped with lockdown. I realised I needed to stop worrying about what I couldn’t control and focus on what I could. I recognised an opportunity to reconnect the new and growing audience of remote workers.

“Many hospitality spaces in local neighbourhoods were devastated by lockdown and seeking new revenue streams. There was also a desperate need to reconnect people to one another, supporting mental health and encouraging positive wellbeing. Our mission and vision is to grow a community for global Swurfers – this is what we call our users.”

Nikki says the opportunity to bring together technology and Scotland’s tourism offering is hugely exciting.

“Tourism is the heart of Scotland, a country blessed with world class beauty, culture and experiences. Technology is an enabler to the global demand and desire to be part of that and lockdown has accelerated development and growth.”

Meet Janani Prabhakaran, Founder and CEO, Unbaggaged

Janani Prabhakaran is the founder and CEO of Unbaggaged which helps travellers with storing and transporting bags and currently operating in Edinburgh. Janani is a business graduate at the University of Strathclyde and graduated in 2019– the same year she founded Unbaggaged. She has won the Santander CEO funding and has recently won the Scottish Young Edge in 2021 for her travel tech startup, Unbaggaged.

Janani Prabhakaran, Unbaggaged by Edinburgh castle

I wanted to push my limits and see whether entrepreneurship is my cup of tea instead of being bound to a desk job.”

Janani from UnbaggagedJanani Prabhakaran describes her company, Unbaggaged, as “Uber for bags”. It enables travellers to easily book mobile luggage storage during their visit to Edinburgh, offering pick ups and returns at convenient times and locations. It’s an idea that first occurred to her four years ago, aged 19, while studying at the University of Strathclyde.

“As an avid traveller, Unbaggaged was dreamed up on a trip to London. The last day on the trip was hugely inconvenienced by having to drag bags around after being turned away at the British Museum, before reluctantly forking out £12.50 per bag to store them at a left luggage facility. I knew there was a real need being left unmet, and a sector ripe for disruption.

“Luggage is one of the sulkiest tasks that we deal with whilst travelling so why not take it away and make the most of every minute in the new destination! Personally, I wanted to push my limits and see whether entrepreneurship is my cup of tea instead of being bound to a desk job.”

Janani was right to push herself. “We launched Unbaggaged after surviving the pandemic in May 2021, and have welcomed so many customers, won the Scottish Young Edge and have partnered with 475 hospitality-related businesses in Edinburgh. We plan to scale to Glasgow and London in the next year and to Europe and the USA in the next five years. Our vision is to become the go-to solution for luggage difficulties the world over.”

She says Scotland has been bitten by the traveltech bug.

“Scotland’s traveltech community is able to think beyond what a traditional tourism industry looks like. Skyscanner is one of the key examples for getting unicorn status. Another reason is the number of female entrepreneurs. Julie Grieve from Criton and others have definitely made the industry more exciting, innovative and built investable companies that have put Scotland on the map.”