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Startup Weekend Cairns returns with tourism focus

After a forced postponement due to a cyclone threat, Cairns’ first ever Startup Weekend – Tourism & Hospitality is back on track.

Rescheduled for May 29-31, this will be Cairns’ third Startup Weekend overall and its first ‘vertical’ (themed) event, with a focus on what are essentially the cornerstones of our regional economy: tourism and hospitality.

The weekend will provide a platform to connect and mentor tour operators, hospitality owners, managers, workers and anyone else looking to develop real solutions for the economic challenges faced by our region.

Far from just being yet another talk-fest, these events are very hands-on and aim to get business ideas vetted, validated, pivoted and pitch-ready.

Much like the last Startup Weekend Cairns, participants will start by throwing out ideas, then move on to choosing, testing and refining the best ones, and hopefully finish with the seeds of viable businesses.

But unlike previous events, this will focus on the region’s biggest economic drivers – tourism and hospitality.

Tourism has long underpinned Cairn’s economy, and according to Cairns Regional Council, “the [tourism] industry contributed more than $2.6 billion to the regional economy in 2013 and is on track to reach $3.2 billion in 2015.”

The Council also lists the business tourism market, sports tourism, eco-tourism and cultural tourism as being areas which provide opportunities for future growth.

It can be easy to forget that our natural (and unnatural) attractions are as profitable as they are and draw visitors from around the world (when there are no cyclones around, of course).  Yet whether they are environmental, sport-related or otherwise, Cairns’ resources must be protected and the way we capitalise on our assets can be improved upon.

Technology can, and must, be applied to facilitate new ideas, improve efficiency and profit, and overcome long-standing challenges in our economy by reaching out beyond our own backyard.

But while Cairns startups might help to bolster the existing local tourism and hospitality sectors, even bigger wins will come when we use Cairns’ unique advantages and experience in these industries to build globally significant companies.

Think global, start small. The startup culture in Australia is growing, and there is no reason for Cairns not to ride the entrepreneurial wave beyond our local or even national markets.

In Sydney, the November 2014 Startup Weekend reportedly attracted double the number of participants as the previous year.

Up here we have a smaller (yet no less impressive) pool of talent to draw upon, and while we face some challenges due to our geographical separation from major centres, this doesn’t mean we have to sit on the sidelines.

Fresh off their first preaccelerator program, Troy Haines and Damian Zammit from Cairns’ co-working hub theSPACE will continue their run of local Startup Weekends with the May event.

Initiatives like theSPACE and Cairns Regional Investment Group are key drivers behind the region’s involvement in Australia’s startup ecosystem, and have helped foster startups like Konveen and ShareStuff.

Local and State Government are now starting to get behind the movement, with Cairns Mayor Bob Manning and Queensland Treasurer and Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt opening the May event, and the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation providing sponsorship support.

In an interview aired on WIN News late last year, Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said of the work of theSPACE, “There’s no reason why we can’t become ‘the Silicon Valley of Australia.’”

Participants will ideally tick the box on one or more of the following:

  • own or work in a related business or otherwise have some insight into tourism and hospitality;
  • have some tech skills;
  • have marketing skills or be well-connected;
  • or simply have a lot of energy or creativity to share and be great at energising teams and helping to drive projects forward.

Ideas will be pitched in 60 seconds, and teams will be formed around those that strike a chord.  Participants can do multiple pitches (if time allows), or no pitch at all – the events encourage a no-judgement atmosphere.

The cyclone is gone, the sun is shining, and it’s time for Cairns to get moving.

Karen Ross is a new TSJ contributor, publicist for theSPACE and co-founder of ShareStuff.

About Karen Ross