Your Unofficial Guide to Kyrgyz Republic

Travel & Tourism Hackathon: Why Kyrgyz Republic Needs More Events Like This

Travel & Tourism Hackathon: Why Kyrgyz Republic Needs More Events Like This

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the total contribution of travel & tourism to Kyrgyz Republic's GDP is expected to be 3.8% in 2016. The forecast by 2026 is 5.1% of GDP. The country, unlike some of its neighbors, has no large oil reserves, and places hopes on a few major sectors, one of which is tourism. 

Sometimes called a 'Switzerland of Central Asia', still largely unknown in the world, Kyrgyz Republic attracts mostly as an undiscovered area and less by a beautiful nature and nomadic culture. And while it tries taking steps in the right direction like implementing a visa-free regime first in the region, absurd initiatives like registration for foreign citizens happen to appear too.

Travel & Tourism Hackathon started in Bishkek this Friday. The event was precedent by a series of ideation sessions, events to discuss current problems in the sector and to generate ideas to be realized at the hackathon. A number of speakers representing governmental bodies, businesses, associations and experts community were invited to the ideation sessions. The sessions had heads of Trekking Union of Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyz Tour Operators Association, Community Based Tourism Association, State Department of Tourism as well as top managers of the leading tourism businesses and even the first Kyrgyz citizen to make a trip around the globe, Ruslan Tokochev.

The hackathon was organised by KG Labs Public Foundation, whose mission is to promote technology entrepreneurship in Kyrgyz Republic. The foundation already organized one back in 2015 — Garage 48 Bishkek with experts from Estonia. This time it was decided to choose travel & tourism sector assuming its importance to Kyrgyz Republic. The members of the hackathon split into six teams to build a viable product in 54 hours.

It’s stunning how teams transformed in 54 hours into hot groups professionally using business model canvas to pivot their ideas!
— Aziz Soltobaev, KG Labs Chairman

The teams came up with products supposed to make life of tourists visiting Kyrgyz Republic much easier. The ideas were to launch apps and websites, which provided maps with cultural sights, lists and ratings of guides, chats and phone services to answer questions from tourists, and guides best matching wishes of tourists. They had 54 hours to create products they presented later at finals before a jury consisting of local and foreign industry professionals. Separate teams of speakers and mentors, both online and in person, helped the teams to develop their products.

The winners are 'Challengers' and 'Chakchak' teams. The idea of the first is to exchange challenges — a more innovative and entertaining way to learn the country — it's an app with different challenges like, for instance, a challenge to cook a national dish or to play a traditional game and many more. 'Chakchak' team's product is a Telegram bot providing information tourists need, doing translation from English to Kyrgyz, sending SOS signals and etc. These winner teams will now take part in the Bishkek Investment Forum, a place to meet for investors and businesses, on December 8 to find potential investors for their projects. 

We've asked KG Labs Chairman, Aziz Soltobaev some questions about the event too.

We have to thank you and your team for organizing such an event. Do you consider Travel & Tourism Hackathon 2016 as successful?

First of all, Travel & Tourism Hackathon is a culmination of series of six events related to travel, entrepreneurship, business model canvas we organized in November 2016. We put tremendous amount of energy, time and effort to make this event happen. With dream team and partnership coalition we made it the success! On Facebook only we had 100,000 reach of targeted audience, almost 700 people attended our preliminary events. Final event — the hackathon itself brought attention from national TV channels, leading news agencies. But most of all, six out of eighteen pitches were selected and team of mentors and industry professionals helped the teams to develop their business models, prototypes and pitches. It's stunning how teams transformed in 54 hours into hot groups professionally using business model canvas to pivot their ideas!

What's next? We know the teams will now take part in the Bishkek Investment Forum, where they will search for investors — what if they they get no funding?

Winners of the hackathon — Challengers and Chakchak teams will be able to present their ideas on Bishkek Investment Forum (BIF) on December 8, 2016. BIF is a platform, where entrepreneurs and investors from all over the country will gather in one place to make deals. Startups is a new element of forum, where innovative technological projects will be presented. Hackathon winner could attract up to USD 20,000 in a form of investments from participating investors. Apart from it, international donor organizations consider communicating with all hackathon teams one by one and discussing partnership opportunities in the next ten days.

What is KG Labs's role in the projects — is the fund somehow supporting them or are they on their own now?

Role of KG Labs is to help teams to develop their prototypes, business models and help them meet business angels and professional investors. We are preparing teams for BIF 2016 and upcoming global startup competitions.

We wish you success in all of your projects and thank you again before we ask the last question — what and when should we expect next from KG Labs?

Travel hackathon is the last project of this year, but we plan to have quarterly hackathons in upcoming 2017. Apart from it, KG Labs will conduct series of biweekly workshops, fireside chats to boost tech entrepreneuship in Kyrgyz Republic.

World Travel & Tourism Council's report says 31,000 jobs to be generated by travel & tourism in 2016, 1.7% of total employment. This is forecast to 110,000 jobs by 2026, which will be 4.2% of total employment. It is hard to overestimate the sector's importance to Kyrgyz economy. 

Events like Travel & Tourism Hackathon not only boost startup ecosystem in Kyrgyz Republic, they also help to define problems the country has and to offer solutions we need so much. On top of that, they bring innovation and, what is most important, support entrepreneurial spirit. One day, when Kyrgyz Republic is one of the most desired destinations to visit, it will be thanks to events like these.

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