UNWTO Women in Tech Startup Competition: Middle East

UNWTO Women in Tech Startup Competition: Middle East

Be a Woman, Be a Leader.


Category 1: Social Impact

WINNER: Plastus Biotech | Saudi Arabiatheplastus.com


Category 2: Tourism and Travel Experience

WINNER: Sparkle Haze | United Arab Emirates: www.sparklehaze.com


Category 3: Future Tech

WINNER: Xenios Academy | United Arab Emirates: www.xenios.academy 


Category 4: Events and Community

WINNER: Fosha | Egypt: https://fosha.app



Tourism Empowers Women

According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), women make up most of the tourist workforce in major parts of the world. UNWTO is always committed to gender equality, as mandated in Sustainable Development Goal 5, referring to women empowerment by supporting women’s rights and improving their participation in the business realm. UNWTO’s global report on tourism found that more than 54% of people employed in the tourism are women, while in the Arab world, women represent 8% of the regional tourist workforce. UNWTO is continuously seizing opportunities to highlight the role of women in the tourism sector, and particularly Arab women.

Women and Technology

Technology has become a driven tool for all travelers and tourism businesses. In the Arab region, 34% of tech focused startups were founded by women, and 57% of science technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates are women. UNWTO is committed to support Arab entrepreneurs, boosting their tourism business careers. Hence, the industry is always searching for businesswomen with technological solutions and specialized skills to oversee smart digital projects. For this reason, UNWTO launched a startup competition to find the most innovative tech-driven startups in the realm of tourism, managed by women.

UNWTO and Innovation

Since 2018, the Innovation, Education and Investments Department at UNWTO has launched 23 global, regional, and specific startup competitions and challenges in more than 150 countries. In parallel, it has organized 21 Tourism Tech Adventures (Innovation Forums) in 14 countries, with an additional 8 online editions. A total funding of +214 USD million has been raised for Top Startups.


The UNWTO Women in Tech Startup Competition: Middle East, calls for women entrepreneurs from all over the world and based in the Arab region willing to grow their tech startup in the tourism industry, and provide sustainable solutions to the sector.

Which startups can apply?

  • Startups must be led, owned or managed by women in the Middle East, residing in any of the following countries: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Be an Idea Stage, Early Stage or Series A startups with a minimum viable product or idea that is ready to be developed and funded.
  • Have a full-time team, a tested pilot and business plan.
  • Be scalable with potential for international growth.

Startups will apply to one of the 4 categories below, defined by UNWTO. Since some initiatives may be fitting into more than one category, please choose the one where the predicted positive impact will be greatest.
CATEGORY 1- Social Impact: We live in an increasingly connected and interdependent world, transformed by digital advances lead by women. Technology can help us advance social, cultural, and environmental objectives, creating meaningful impact for people across borders. If well managed, technology can enable the tourism sector to act as an agent of positive change for healthier lifestyles, enriched and revitalized cultural destinations, and more sustainable consumption and production patterns.
This category is open for women-led startups that focus on technology in wellness, health, urban development, rural development, sustainability, and education with cross-cutting benefits with tourism.

CATEGORY 2 - Tourism and Travel Experience: The tourism sector faced unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is still recovering from. New technologies, digital tools and capacities are needed to accelerate recovery and define the future of the sector. Tech and digitalization can no longer be a niche, they must be a fundamental part of the new norm for the industry. This is particularly the case in the Middle East, a region that is witnessing a push to increase tourism offerings and their quality, to emerge as a key destination on the global stage.
This thematic area invites to participate women-led startups focusing on the food and beverage, transportation and accommodation, travel, and retail industries. 

CATEGORY 3 - Future Tech: Digitalization is no longer a trend in the Middle East, it is here to stay for all sectors, including tourism. Many countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, amongst others, are moving towards implementing a smart destinations approach to tourism.
This category targets women-led startups that work in the areas of fintech, AI, AR/VR, crypto currency, internet of things, blockchain technology, digital twining and the metaverse. 

CATEGORY 4 - Events and Community: Today, technology and social media platforms enable communities around the world, even if they exist online, in-person or in a hybrid format. Whether these communities focus on sports, arts and culture, gaming, literature, professional or personal interests and events, they are being managed and run through technology.
This thematic area is for women-led startups that have a special focus on social and messaging platforms, e-sports and gaming platforms, community-based applications, events-related platforms, and education technology to participate.

The winners of Women in Tech Startup Competition Middle East will gain from the following benefits:

  • Invitation to join UNWTO Innovation Network, with access to more than 447 investors, 47 incubators, 1274 corporations and representatives from governments, academia and media from all over the world. 
  • Opportunity to participate and pitch in the UNWTO Tourism Tech Adventure high-level event, that will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 27 September for the celebration of International Tourism Day.
  • Visibility on all UNWTO platforms and social media networks, with a global reach.
  • Mentorship programs with international leaders in the field of innovation.
  • Access to potential seed funding, investments, and partnership opportunities with consultancies, accelerators and incubators.
  • Scholarships for UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, which has more than 20.000 alumni, and offers courses in different languages, including Arabic, produced in partnership with international top Universities all over the world.
  • Prospective opportunities to talk as guest keynote speakers and panelists at international forums.

March 2023
Launch Date
30 June
Application Deadline

July 2023
Shortlisted decision
27 September
World Tourism Day Tourism Tech Adventures Pitch of the finalists Round tables and thematic sessions
Impact Personalized support for finalist startups

Travel Partner


About Innovation at UNWTO:

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) believes that innovation is the key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. To drive the digitalization of tourism, create an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem that will maximize the potential of the sector in terms of economic growth, job creation, and sustainable development, and anticipate, address and overcome the new challenges and trends of the tourism sector, in 2018 UNWTO developed a framework for Innovation, Education, Digital Transformation and Investments.

The IEI Department already launched 23 global, regional, and specific challenges, and 21 Tourism Tech Adventures (Innovation Forums) in 14 countries were held, with an additional 8 online editions. Total funding of 214 + USD million has been gathered for the UNWTO Top Startups