What a night in Madrid! The Freebird Club won 2 out of 3 awards at the UN World Tourism Organization’s Startup Competition in Madrid - the Sustainability Award and Investment Partner Award. The global startup competition run by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in partnership with Globalia, the leading tourism group in Spain and Latin America, attracted 3,000 startups from 133 countries. The Competition sought out the world’s most disruptive initiatives that are transforming the way people travel and experience tourism, while adhering closely to the principles of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Following a series of rounds, 10 finalists presented their projects to an audience of global leaders of the public and private sectors of tourism, as part of the FITUR 2019 conference in Madrid, January 23 - 27. Each solution’s uniqueness, viability, potential impact, business model and scalability, were the criteria for the selection process.

While Israeli startup Refundit (an app for tourist VAT refunds in the EU) took first prize at the inaugural edition of the Competition, the UNWTO and Globalia presented Irish startup The Freebird Club with the award for greatest sustainability and social impact. Freebird also won the Investment Partner Award offered by Portugal Ventures, with a minimum €100K investment to develop the project in Portugal.

The Freebird Club is a peer-to-peer travel and homestay club for older adults. It enables members (‘Freebirds’) to book social homestays with each other based on shared interests and compatibility. The Freebird Club describes its mission as “connecting senior explorers through meaningful travel” and in doing so it offers a new way of travelling for older adults, a means to earn extra money through their homes, and a fun accessible way to meet new people and enjoy social and cultural interaction in later life.

“Winning theses awards – especially the Sustainability Award - provides immense validation for what we are trying to do in terms of social inclusion for older adults. It is also game-changing in terms of our global ambitions.” said Freebird Club founder and CEO Peter Mangan, adding "we share these awards with our wonderful growing community of 'Freebirds' around the world. This is just the beginning - we're on a mission to create a real movement around this".

In presenting the awards, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “For the first time, we have managed to position tourism in the global innovation agenda, where it absolutely deserves a place in keeping with the economic weight and social impact of the sector”.

The Freebird Club has already won top international awards for its social innovation, including from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, and is now raising investment for global expansion.

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Co-funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union
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