Eco Luminaries™: Hartmut Wimmer, Founder and CEO of Outdooractive

We have already revolutionized the world of tourism data in the outdoor sector (and all others are gradually adopting our data structure) and we will now do the same with data on sustainability! 

Hartmut WimmerHartmut Wimmer

With over two decades of business experience, Hartmut Wimmer, founder and CEO of Outdooractive, is a pioneer in the digitalization of outdoor tourism. Soon after completing his studies in Civil Engineering at the University of Munich, he founded his own engineering company in 1994, focusing on tourism infrastructure planning. Being a great outdoor enthusiast, and confronted with plenty of problems with planning his own trips, he came up with the idea of a platform that would provide necessary information and data in one place and thus Outdooractive was launched in 2008. It is a virtual home for like-minded people to share their experiences and adventures in nature and find offers from tourism destinations around the world. Hartmut has personally contributed to the success and growth of the Outdooractive platform by sharing hundreds of his trips and trails on, which today is one of the world’s largest outdoor platforms simultaneously connecting the community and all players in the outdoor tourism sector with cutting-edge technology. He has also founded the non-profit Digitize the Planet and is a Board Member of the World Trails Network. Mr Wimmer will be speaking at the GSTC2023 Sustainable Tourism Conference in Antalya, Türkiye (9-12 May, 2023) and we have the pleasure of interviewing him in our capacity as Media Partners of this event. 

Antonis Petropoulos: How did the idea for Outdooractive emerge and how did your studies and previous experience as a Civil Engineer help you?

Hartmut Wimmer: As engineers and planners of outdoor infrastructure in the 90s, we planned ski resorts, bike parks and hiking trails digitally. This resulted in perfect geo-referenced cartographic data from which we then developed topo maps from the geodatabase as a basis for the GPS devices of the time. From this came the idea to develop the whole thing into a holistic outdoor tourism platform, where you can find all the information you need for a trip in one place. The expertise from the planning of tourist infrastructure and the knowledge of the great importance of regionality and culture has significantly determined the DNA of Outdooractive and is also the basis for the digital travel guide.
Antonis Petropoulos:
So, in what ways is the Outdooractive business model different from other Adventure Tourism Platforms and how did you navigate around or outcompete the well known giants in the digital and OTA worlds, and become "Europe’s leading developer for technology and cartography in tourism"? 

Hartmut Wimmer: Outdooractive is first and foremost a B2B platform on which we build the alliance of officials. Here we integrate all professional stakeholders - we call these Business Types - with their data, offers and business models - and build them together into a total offer for the users. They then join as a community and use the professional and official content for their trips and add their own content as enrichment. The OTAs known today are all quasi one-dimensional and each of them solves a task. But that is not what the user needs in the end, namely everything for a vacation in one place.

Hiking List of Routes & Search MapHiking List of Routes & Search MapAntonis Petropoulos: And why do travellers choose your free and premium maps subscriptions over freely available tools like Google Maps or OpenStreet Maps?

Hartmut Wimmer: Because the map is simply better for Outdoor activities. And we are providing the most reliable maps for mountains activities, where it is essential to come back safe and healthy.

Antonis Petropoulos: Moving to the issue of sustainability, you recently wrote on social media that "It is high time to shed light on the darkness of sustainability certifications". How pivotal is certification in your own work and do you believe there is extensive foul play? 

Hartmut Wimmer: For future vacation decisions by users, it will become increasingly important to have reliable data as a basis. If you want to know about local public transport, regional food, nature conservation, fair trade products or the use of disposable plastic products, then seals of approval alone are not enough. We have already revolutionized the world of tourism data in the outdoor sector (and all others are gradually adopting our data structure) and we will now do the same with data on sustainability.

Antonis Petropoulos: But can certifications ever be made fully transparent, and accurate given that they are a snapshot and that not everything can be measured and quantified? Even if there are frequent spot checks and verification by trusted third parties or the public sector, will there always be an element of "pay and display" and "going through the moves"?

Hartmut Wimmer: What we know today is not yet a solution that you can do much with. There will be a process in which step by step more and more detailed data will emerge, which will also become more and more objectively measurable. This will result in KPIs and scores that providers and customers will use as a guide. In the future, good offers will be distinguished from greenwashing and certificates, which are currently created primarily for marketing reasons. This process will take time and innovators who have the indomitable will to achieve the goal. It's a role we've always felt comfortable in.

Routes POI and navigation option via smartwatchRoutes POI and navigation option via smartwatchAntonis Petropoulos: I know that you are presenting an interesting workshop at the upcoming Global Sustainable Tourism Conference in Antalya - GSTC2023; please explain which is the intended audience and how will participants benefit. What types of features or initiatives would you like to see in future summits and similar events, in terms of further advancing the cause of sustainability in tourism?

Hartmut Wimmer: We are not the certifiers. We take care of the data behind the certification. We want to standardize the data structures so that in the end there is usable data for all certificates that can be distributed across all platforms and displayed to the guest. All certification bodies should participate, all software platforms on which the certifications are made, all intermediaries who manage and transport the data and all OTAs that obtain the data and display it to their customers. However, all national organizations that organize the certifications in their countries should also take part. The process of standardizing the certification data will be a thing that will take time and will need constant development - just like the criteria for certification. The event in Antalya should therefore be a prelude to the working group, which will then meet regularly.

Antonis Petropoulos: Moving up to Destinations level, what benefits and challenges does Digital Visitor Management present to Destination Managers and how does your company try to assist them?

Hartmut Wimmer: Managing an entire destination is like managing a big company, except it's a lot of companies that you have to bring together in an orchestra. Effective visitor management can only be done on a digital basis. So if you as a DMO have digitized the entire offer, it's about reaching the guests and getting to know them digitally. We are the only company in the world that offers this process as a complete platform - from the digitization of the destination to the reach, the tools for the guests, white-label websites and apps with an integrated community, personalized visitor guidance to tracking and analyses.

My Business Heatmap Vizualization of VisitorsMy Business Heatmap Vizualization of VisitorsAntonis Petropoulos: This brings us to your non-profit, Digitize the Planet, what is its principal mission and what are the synergies with Outdooractive?

Hartmut Wimmer: There are an estimated 400,000 protected areas in the world. Unfortunately nobody knows the rules, which are different in each protected area. Therefore, the tourists cannot behave in accordance with the rules. The mission of Digitize the Planet is to digitize all rules for the use of nature and make them accessible to all platforms as open data. With this you can support the user at the moment of planning and also outside in nature and always show them what they are allowed to do there and what not. Outdooractive is the first platform to use this data. At Outdooractive we also have the digital travel guide of the world, which contains all protected areas. The topic is extremely important to us and we will always go one step further than everyone else and we also finance DtP to a large extent.

Antonis Petropoulos: What do you love most about the mountains and how do they inspire you in your work?

Hartmut Wimmer: I grew up in the mountains and i am rooted in the culture of the mountain people. In extreme areas of nature, you become aware of where we humans originally come from. Tourist development brings everyone back to nature a bit - therefore development must be in harmony with nature and tourists must also be guided accordingly, because most people have lost their sense of nature. Outdoor tourism is a good way to bring people and nature back together - but with respect to the rules.

Antonis Petropoulos: You have turned your hobby into a career and with outstanding success. Can this be a general recommendation for young people who have the opportunity and can afford to do likewise?

Hartmut Wimmer: Definitely, and it's not a question of whether you can afford it or not. I would advise everyone to define for themselves what they are, what they are good at and what they like to do. If you are clear about this yourself, then you should go your own way, which is defined by the goal and not by career opportunities.

Antonis Petropoulos: Thank you very much, we hope you succeed in both fronts, for more transparent and digitalised certifications and protected area rules. 

GSTC2023, AntalyaGSTC2023, Antalya