Success depends on empowering women, according to the executive director of the UNWTO


Riyadh – The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced the winners of its Women in Tech Startup Competition: Middle East, held in Riyadh on World Tourism Day. The competition, launched in March to commemorate International Women’s Day, aimed to recognize women-led startups that offered innovative solutions with a positive social impact.

The competition received an overwhelming response, with 143 applicants from across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria. After careful evaluation, the winners in different categories were selected.

Nouf Al-Hazmi, CEO of Plastus Biotech, emerged as the winner in the Social Impact Category. Plastus Biotech specializes in producing PHA biodegradable bioplastics by repurposing organic waste. Al-Hazmi expressed her excitement, stating, “They’ve only selected four from all over the world… It’s huge. It means a lot to us, for young Saudi women and women around the world.” Plastus Biotech’s concept aligns with Saudi Arabia’s circular carbon economy goal for 2030 and the commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

In the Tourism and Travel Experience category, Kirti Chandel, Chief Product Officer at SparkleHaze, won the award. Chandel developed Woo-Hoo, an enterprise-based artificial intelligence assistant speaker designed to enhance the in-room experience for hospitality guests. Woo-Hoo provides a personalized and sustainable approach to hospitality services while simplifying guest interactions. Chandel stated, “We are boosting green hospitality… we combine them into one single form factor, and also, we are digitizing your compendium menu.”

The Future Tech Category winner was Zeljana Babic, CEO of Xenios Academy. Xenios Academy is an AI-powered training program aimed at helping hospitality businesses boost revenue through employee training. Babic emphasized the importance of investing in people and their education, stating, “We cannot invest in hospitality without investing in people and without investing in their education.”

Menna Ayad, CEO of Fosha, won the Events and Community category. Fosha is an AI-powered app that enables personalized experience bookings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Executive Director of UNWTO, Natalia Bayona, praised Saudi Arabia for its booming tourism industry. She acknowledged the country’s commitment to investing in people, education, the planet, and technology and innovation. Bayona highlighted the significant growth of foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia, as reported by a joint report by the Financial Times and UNWTO, which indicated an 80 percent increase. She emphasized the importance of staying committed and being part of a positive community, noting that tourism is a crucial employer for women and youth.

Bayona expressed gratitude to her employers for empowering and trusting her, emphasizing the importance of support and empowerment in achieving success. She recognized that talent and a strong resume alone are not enough without empowerment.

The Women in Tech Startup Competition: Middle East not only celebrated the achievements of talented women entrepreneurs but also highlighted the growing role of technology and innovation in shaping the future of the tourism industry. The event showcased the commitment of organizations like UNWTO and the Saudi Arabian government to support and empower women, foster education, and drive economic diversification through tourism.

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