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Gold Coast startup aims to reduce empty seats for tourism operators

Empty seats — the bane of every tourism operator from the beaches of the Gold Coast to the ancient ruins of Rome. Every spare place on a boat ride or guided tour is foregone revenue.

While services like Lastminute.com.au have made a name for themselves in the accommodation space, and in recent years have moved into holiday packages and tourist attractions, the challenge of bringing under-capacity tourist attractions together with nearby tourists who could take immediate advantage of discounted prices remains largely unsolved.

A new service, goStandby, tackles this problem head on. The team at goStandby beat eight other teams to win Startup Weekend Gold Coast, which was attended by 140 participants. Founder, Nathan Challen, said: “We have 3 tourism operators on board already, but we’d like to see that grow pretty quickly.”

This is not the first time Challen has been on the winner’s podium in recent times. He was part of a team that won local prizes during GovHack in June this year, and he was a member of the runner-up team at Startup Weekend Brisbane last year.

Challen says that so far selling the GoStandby concept to tourism operators has been a more straightforward prospect than his experience with a prior startup.

“With my previous startup, a customer feedback service for restaurants, we’d somehow get painted as yet another Groupon or similar voucher business, and so it was difficult to convince restaurants and cafes of the value we would provide to them,” Challen explained. “Our experience with goStandby has been completely different. Vendors see the value that we’re offering immediately.”

I first met Challen two weeks ago, for the Silicon Lakes Valley trip report presentation. After that event, Challen was kind enough to drive me to Robina Station in his restored 1970 Alfa Romeo.

“I fixed it up myself,” Challen told me. “It’s looking pretty nice, only the engine can be a bit flaky at times.”

Challen will be looking to tune the growth engine of his latest venture.

“I know tourism well, because it’s an industry I work in. We’ve tested the critical hypotheses of the business, so we’re fairly confident goStandby will be a channel that operators will want to exploit. Then we need to get the app in the hands of tourists.”

It’s unsurprising that a tourism startup would win the Gold Coast edition of Startup Weekend. Tourism is a mainstay of the Gold Coast economy, contributing one dollar in every five generated in the city. The Gold Coast will be hoping to capitalise on the expected uptick in business tourism associated with the G20 Summit taking place in nearby Brisbane next year. The 2018 Commonwealth Games will also provide a boost to the tourism industry on the Coast.

Clearly, goStandby is a service that the local council hopes will take off. Councillor Glenn Tozer was on hand to announce the winner on Sunday night, and said: “An application like this will be a great stimulus to fill last-minute seats for so many tourist activities on the Gold Coast such as Hot Air Balloon Rides, Cultural Events and water sports, giving further support to local business owners who struggle to run their events at full capacity.”

Watch goStandby over the coming months and years. They’ve identified a real pain point, and boast a top notch team led by Challen.

“At the outset of the weekend,” said Challen, “I told the team that it wasn’t about winning. It didn’t matter if we came second or didn’t rate at all. It was about having a business that we could build on together.”

Silicon Lakes director Greg Burnett is buoyed by the quality of the teams that attended Startup Weekend Gold Coast. He described the weekend as an exercise in “experienced-based learning” and is already planning for the next Startup Weekend in November.

About Ricky Robinson

When he's not writing for The Tech Street Journal, Ricky's working at NICTA, Australia’s ICT Centre of Excellence, where he performs a mix of industry engagement, research and, of course, software engineering. Ricky holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Queensland and spent some time in Mountain View, California, at Sun Microsystems Research Labs. Ricky's the prime instigator of TSJ.