BambooLao Wins 2018 Mekong Travel Startup Challenge

A reusable bamboo straw producer from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) beat 111 entrants from across Southeast Asia to take the top prize in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) challenge.

The Australian Government and the Asian Development Bank support the travel startup competition through the Mekong Business Initiative, which promotes private sector development in four Mekong countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

The winning startup, BambooLao, is from the ancient city of Luang Prabang, a top tourist destination in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Its goal is to eliminate single-use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia by offering reusable bamboo straws as an alternative.

Environmentally friendly products

BambooLao has produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo varieties and a proprietary natural treatment process. The straws are used by Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as EXO Travel tours. The company estimates that its environmentally friendly products have displaced the use of five million single-use plastic straws.

“The MIST innovation grant will help us scale-up production from one to three villages. We must invest in capacity to meet growing international demand,” said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune.

MIST’s top prize comes with a $10,000 innovation grant.

Other winners

Ecohost from Viet Nam took MIST’s second prize and received a $5,000 grant. Ecohost facilitates quality tourism experiences in the Vietnamese countryside, working with rural communities to develop tours and activities while improving the capacity of local homestays to serve international guests.

MIST supports emerging market startups in travel and hospitality with high growth potential. It helps especially startups that generate positive impacts for communities, culture, and the environment.

The program’s five 2018 finalists refined their business acumen and pitching skills during MIST’s weeklong business fundamentals bootcamp, 5 months of customized coaching by industry experts, and MIST pitch competitions in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam, Nakhon Phanom in Thailand, and ITB-Asia’s Mekong Travel Startup Forum in Singapore.  

“BambooLao, Ecohost, and other MIST finalists demonstrate how the Mekong region’s bright, innovative entrepreneurs are finding practical solutions to solve industry problems, while striving to make tourism more inclusive and sustainable," said Jens Thraenhart, co-organizer of MIST and executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.