We Need Private Sector Innovation to Re-Open Tourism

Announcing the Launch of Congregate: A Solutions Accelerator to Increase Resilience in the Tourism, Performing Arts, Travel, and Hospitality (TPATH) Industries

Nirav S. Desai
7 min readSep 20, 2021

So, Denmark just claimed victory against COVID-19. After 548 days, they are lifting all COVID restrictions. Whether this new freedom in Denmark will show a trend of things to come, though, is yet to be seen.

In the U.S. we are settling into a new new normal, where COVID rates remain high — at about 16X the rate where U.S. authorities would consider a similar declaration. But Americans have never been good at organized collective action based on top-down government mandates. Where Americans excel is innovation.

Photo by Frantzou Fleurine on Unsplash

Americans thrive in ambiguity because they take risks and try different solutions. As COVID-19 drags on into what will soon be 2022, we need to harness the spirit of American entrepreneurship to innovation our way out of this crisis. Towards that end, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) is bringing together industry, regulators, and innovators to create solutions to make the PNW economy more resilient and export these solutions globally.

We need to build connections with industry and regulators to ensure that the technologies can be deployed at attractions in a safe manner. To help facilitate these connections, we are opening applications to Congregate: A Solutions Accelerator to Advance Solutions to Re-open the TPATH Sectors.

Why we need a solutions accelerator

COVID-19 hit in America in March 2020 with the initial outbreak in Seattle. And it hit hard, bringing tourism and the affiliated services to a halt — from live music to entertainment venues, to cruise travel — it all stopped. And we have reopened in fits and starts with a constant risk of future shutdowns. We have endured the loss of loved ones, bankruptcy of businesses, and an upending of the way we congregate. While people are starting to travel again and we have found ways to keep the economy going, there is nothing normal about the new normal. The TPATH sectors tends to employ more minorities and women than other sectors. The slowdown in these sectors have hurt disproportionately affected these communities making reopening tourism both an economic and an equity priority.

Let’s face that after nearly two-years of knowing about the pandemic (with initial cases in China starting in November 2019), we are not going to achieve consensus on public health policy needed for an organized collective response like they achieved in Denmark, New Zealand, or Taiwan. And as a result, a lot of the burden falls on the private sector to plan for and mange risk related to this on-going crisis. Through Congregate we seek to support and accelerate addressing this burden.

Our Process

Over the past five months, PNWER has conducted extensive interviews with leaders in the TPATH sectors. In these interviews, we catalogued the changing landscape of challenges faced by industry through different phases of the pandemic, innovations employed, technologies that showed promise, and structural and business model issues that hindered implementation of solutions. We spoke with events venues (e.g. stadiums and concert halls), tourism destinations (e.g. museums and landmarks), lodging providers (e.g. hotels and AirBnB owners), artists (e.g. musicians, dance, and theater groups), travel and transit (e.g. airlines, airports, mass transit, ports), public health regulations, health providers, and commerce promoters (e.g. trade organizations and chambers of commerce). Additionally, we surveyed startups, investors, and corporate innovators looking to address the challenges created by the pandemic. From this process we identified four challenges that the innovation economy is particularly qualified to address:

Challenge 1: Immunity Verification System for the Private Sector

1) Immunity Verification Solutions — Tourist destinations need customers to congregate in a safe manner. However, as we enter the next phase of the pandemic, the goal is not only to re-open safely, but also to stay open. This can be achieved by ensuring safety by certifying, authenticating, and validating the testing and vaccination status of individuals while ensuring data privacy. The objective of this challenge is to pilot technologies and solutions that promote public trust and validate customer safety.

Challenge 2: Hybrid Event Solutions for Venues

2) Hybrid Events Tools — From small group meetings and seminars to large-scale conferences, during most of 2020, in-person live events were replaced by fully virtual ones. As the economy reopens and people return to work, the gains and efficiencies from virtual events should not be ignored. The goal of this challenge is to accelerate technologies and solutions that can deliver event experiences in a hybrid setting. These solutions will be able to seamlessly integrate in-person experiences with virtual ones to deliver equivalent value to users in both domains.

Challenge 3: Contactless and Remote Commerce Solutions

3) Contactless and Remote Commerce Solution Integration — Pandemic induced health safety procedures such as social distancing and reducing contact with surfaces has resulted in the rise of “touchless” or “contactless” technologies such as contactless cards and tickets. As people become used to these solutions during the pandemic, it is likely that they will persist after the crisis is over. Therefore, the goal of this challenge is to accelerate technologies that provide contactless solutions for ticketing, concierge, payment etc. in the context of travel, tourism and arts.

Challenge 4: Workforce Management Solutions

4) Workforce Management and Enablement Platforms — The pandemic severely disrupted the labor market, with many people being furloughed, taking pay cuts and/or working remotely from home. This has raised serious concerns about the “future of work” as the pandemic has accelerated the pace of automation, adoption of AI technologies to reduce costs and make work processes more efficient. The objective of this challenge is to identify solutions that connect employment demand with supply by ensuring the requisite training, certification, and freelance resources to weather short term challenges and plan for long-term needs.

Process: For the next month, PNWER will be accepting applications for Cohort 1 of this accelerator from companies with unique solutions for the above challenges. We will socialize these applications with our partner networks which includes some of the top TPATH companies in Alaska and Washington State including: the Seahawks, Lumen Field, Anchorage Convention Center, the Museum of Flight, Washington Technology Industry Association, Alaska Tourism Industry Association, the PNW Ballet, Amazon, Microsoft, Anchorage Airport, the Port of Seattle, the Museum of the North, University of Alaska Anchorage, and many others. From this, we will match applicants with a challenge and a challenge sponsor that is committed to pilot a solution. Cohort 1 of the accelerator starts in November 2021 and will conclude on February 2022. As part of the programming for the accelerator, we will help companies understand contracting and acquisitions in the TPATH sectors, facilitate investor and customer introductions, support companies with technical points of contact to help them scale and go global, connect them with trade and industry groups with access to corporate buyers, and help them navigate and plan for the changing regulatory environment. Additionally, they will work with a challenge sponsor on implementing their solution with actual tourists/customers. There is not charge for the program and we will take no equity.

Cohort 2 will begin in Spring 2022.

Ways to get involved:

Innovators We invite innovative companies to apply to one of the four challenges for this cohort. If you have a solution that can help us re-open strong, we’d love to hear about it.

Industry Experts — A key element of this accelerator program is mentorship. We are enrolling industry experts who understand TPATH business models to commit up to an hour per week to work with a member company through the duration of this 12-week program. If you’d like to help drive solutions to help us build back stronger, let us know.

TPATH Industry Challenge Sponsors —If you are a tourism, travel, performing arts, or hospitality company that is experiencing challenges and resiliency risk related to CoVID-19, we’d love engage you to learn more about your needs. Challenge sponsors will be connected with companies with capabilities that can help address their needs.

Investors — If you are looking to connect with companies that have strong capability and a well defined and in demand market focus, we’d love to connect you with our member companies. Please connect.


The regional impact will be to benefit the tourism industry including the cruise industry, hotels, casinos, and large venue locations. Safely reopening the tourism sector will require identifying technology for the national need. This accelerator project has the potential of connecting venture capital to new and proven technologies. Investments like these are vital to improving the Pacific Northwest domestic manufacturing and drawing in foreign investment for global challenges with local solutions.

A perspective from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Innovation Co-chairs, Mia Costello (State Senator, Alaska District K) and Nirav S. Desai (CEO, Moonbeam)



Nirav S. Desai

Entrepreneur and strategist who is working to fundamentally change how organizations source and implement technology innovative in the enterprise.