Tourism Accelerator 2020

Powered by Lightning Lab and Tourwriter

What is it?

Tourism Accelerator 2020 is a four-month mentorship programme that supports startup founders who are designing solutions to make travel better for travellers, suppliers, and the environment.

Better travel means a shift away from aggregated travel – the easy-to-book, frequent, low-value, one-size-fits-all style of travel that dominates today. Better travel is a move towards a less frequent but more personalised, deliberately-planned, higher value style of travel.

Better travel would mean:

travellers can conveniently find, book, and experience a far wider array of all-scale travel services that suit their individual preferences

suppliers can conveniently take bookings from well-suited travellers without haemorrhaging margins to banks (and other financial services providers) and online aggregators

environmental impact can be reduced through systematically connecting
and rewarding environmentally-conscious travellers and suppliers

In essence, better travel requires smarter matchmaking, new financial solutions and environmental guardianship.

Why now?

COVID-19 has closed borders and opened minds, radically shifting the way people think about travel. Although the pandemic has delivered the tourism industry its biggest challenge in modern history, New Zealand is perfectly placed to uncover the opportunity that is so often presented by major disruption.

Additionally, the travel industry was already experiencing heavy disruption by overseas-owned aggregators (such as Google) moving into travel retailing and, in many ways, monopolising travellers.

These disruptions have created a significant opportunity for New Zealanders to re-think and re-shape the future of travel. As a nation, we are in a unique and privileged position to be relatively COVID-free, allowing us to build and test solutions locally before scaling globally.


Programme overview

The programme will run from 29 October 2020 to 19 February 2021.

Up to six ventures will be accepted and will work closely with experienced mentors and investors who have built, advised, and sold companies in tourism and other sectors related to the theme of better travel.

Lightning Lab has partnered with Tourwriter, an award-winning Kiwi tourism-tech company that brings knowledge, connections, hands-on mentoring, and investment. As part of their commitment to better travel, Tourwriter is presently developing an online itinerary marketplace that could potentially work in conjunction with solutions developed through the programme.

At the end of the programme, each team will have the opportunity to pitch for cash investment from investors, underwritten to the value of $100,000.

A new model

What’s different from previous accelerator programmes?

Plenty. The world has changed and the team behind Tourism Accelerator 2020 have had to adapt and pivot like so many organisations across New Zealand and the world.

There are five key changes:

The programme will now run from 29 October 2020 to 19 February 2020, with a four-week break over Christmas and New Year’s.

The programme has been reduced from 8–10 teams to 4–6 teams.

Programme team
The programme is being delivered jointly by Lightning Lab and Tourwriter.

The programme is still based in Wellington, but will also be delivered virtually so teams from outside Wellington do not need to relocate.

Investment process
Instead of the normal $20,000 upfront investment per team, each team will be able to pitch at the end of the programme for a minimum pool of $100,000 of investment, along with the opportunity to pitch for further investment with some of the country’s top angel investors and early-stage venture funds.

Better travel targets

How do we make truly personalised travel convenient for travellers and suppliers?

How can we ensure travellers can easily source or create itineraries that suit their interests, travel style, personality, and budget?

How can we relieve pressure from the main attractions and hubs?

How do we make it convenient for our suppliers to keep more of the money tourists spend on their services?

How can we stem and reverse the flow of tourist spend to off-shore global aggregators?

How can we increase the margins for local tourism operators?

How can we use new payment technologies (such as blockchain) and existing services (such as TransferWise) to reduce the financial cost of cross-border transactions?

How do we make it convenient for tourists (domestic and international) to be conscious travellers?

How can we embed the principles of Kaitiakitanga across our entire tourism industry?

How can we measure the impact of a tourist’s entire itinerary?

How can we create carbon-neutral or environmentally-friendly experiences?

How can we provide travellers with clear environmental guardianship data about all tourism offerings?

How can we better disperse tourists to support communities outside the current tourist hotspots?


We are putting together an experienced and talented team of mentors who will be led by our Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Simon Hertnon. Once the programme is underway, the founder teams will check-in weekly with Simon, who will help founders to determine which mentors they should contact at what time.

We will be adding more mentors over the coming months as we seek to ensure the skills and experience of the mentors best match the needs of the applicants.























Entrepreneur in Residence


Key Dates

17 AUGUST 2020

Applications open

7 OCTOBER 2020

Applications close

9 OCTOBER 2020

Shortlist interviews (virtual)

29–30 OCTOBER 2020

Programme starts (in Wellington)

19 DECEMBER 2020–17 JANUARY 2021

Christmas break

19 FEBRUARY 2021

Programme ends


No. Unlike past accelerator programmes, participants will not receive up-front investment.

Instead, participants will work closely with mentors to build a company that is attractive to investors because it solves real problems. Then, at the end of the programme, participants will be able to pitch for a minimum pool of $100,000, along with the opportunity to pitch for further investment with some of the country’s top angel investors and early-stage venture funds.

You can work from wherever you choose.

Except for the kick-off event and the closing event, the programme is being run virtually. However, for teams based in Wellington, we can offer workspace throughout the programme.

No. We are accepting applications from founders who are working on their startup on a part-time basis. However, we are looking for founders who are extremely committed to solving real problems in tourism and travel. A strong indicator of this commitment is the time you currently spend working on your startup.

Yes. However, we strongly recommend you apply as a team.

Each week will consist of a cohort activity along with regular sessions with the mentoring team. The strength of this programme is the industry-knowledge and startup experience of the mentors, who will help you to design and build your product and get you ready to pitch for investment. 

We have intentionally kept the formal programming light to enable participants to focus on product development supported strategically by our team of mentors.

Applicants must be:

  1. New Zealand-based startups based anywhere in the country
  2. solving a problem related to the programme theme of ‘better travel’ and one or more of the three better travel targets
  3. developing a solution that will positively impact the New Zealand tourism and travel industry, while having the potential to scale globally