1. Who are you? Where did "ecomshare" come from? What does it cost? Who uses it now?
As far as existing software users, Ecomshare has provided community based software and hardware to Colorado Homes and Lifestyle Magazine; the city of Golden, Colorado; the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau; the Estes Park Chamber Resort Association; the Long's Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival; the Vail Daily Newspaper; and we recently launched a last minute booking engine for Breckenridge Central Reservations. Vail and Breckenridge are two of the largest ski resort destinations in the state of Colorado. Between Estes Park, Vail and Breckenridge there are hundreds of hotels and businesses using some form of software developed by Ecomshare. Ecomshare sells our e-commerce and point of sale systems directly to individual businesses or we act as a technology partner for existing marketing and sales organizations.
The community applications are provided to communities in several manners. Some communities by software tools outright and purchase support agreements, but most enter into revenue sharing partnerships with Ecomshare. The partnership model was developed by Ecomshare to give non-profits access to technology that would be prohibitively expensive when all costs are required up-front (traditional software agreements). This model lets community organizations obtain software for low cost, in some cases for less than $10,000 and then also provides a return on that investment. For example, in the last 12 months, our VailonSale program has over $100,000 back to the Chamber for use in marketing the program and covering other non-program related operational costs. This from a program that cost them less than $10,000 to activate. These partnerships also give Ecomshare a vested interest in the program's success allowing us to help with marketing, support and upgrades through the life of the program.
These revenue sharing and transactional models are a natural means to support and implement technology to public entities and can take different forms. For example, our current point of sale programs and e-commerce utilize an Ecomshare developed Internet based merchant account. This account provides substantial savings by eliminating additional phone lines, credit card terminal rentals, and lower credit card transaction rates provided by Ecomshare and its processing partners. Another example are our reservation systems that operate on a commission model. This lets individual businesses get started at no upfront cost with Ecomshare and the community organization sharing a commission. Businesses do not need expensive credit card merchant accounts as all funds are allocated by Ecomshare from bank to bank transfers.
Ecomshare generally provides all tools as an ASP or Application Service Provider. As an ASP we not only provide the software but provide all hardware and related connectivity. This lets us ensure all applications will run smoothly and frees community organizations from needing to hire technology professionals or purchase sophisticated hardware. By being involved in this fashion, we are also able to enhance or adapt our software as markets evolve.
In the case of Costa Rica, we can follow a similar model as outlined above. Depending on which programs we deploy and how much local involvement is desired, Ecomshare can host all programs here in the U.S. or we can set up servers in Costa Rica. To maximize economic and educational opportunities, in the long term we would want all operations in Costa Rica provided local infrastructure is sufficient to support the programs.
Our motivation for entering into this venture is to create a long term relationship promoting sustainable economic activity and educational opportunity, but we will need to ensure enough revenue is generated to support travel, extended stays and normal expenses for any staff involved.
2. Are you proposing a voluntary, non-profitable collaboration with small
businesses in Costa Rica, or are you interested in a commercial venture?
With the years of research and development spent in the creation of our various programs, neither Ecomshare nor myself are yet in the position of being able to fund the entire cost of multiple long term programs. However, there should be ample opportunity for revenue sharing or other transaction based models that can cover the support and implementation of these programs. This would likely also depend on who our partners were in these programs. For instance, a partnership with government agencies would likely allow wider implementation of programs and create enough transactional revenue to support our efforts. A private commercial venture on the other hand might need to implement these systems incrementally with subsequent programs “paying their way”. While I am not familiar enough yet with the viability of private-public partnerships in Costa Rica the foundation seems have to been very effective at facilitating said partnerships over the past years.
Again, my desire is to develop a long term mutually beneficial, long term relationship with Costa Rica. Given that opportunity, the structure of the relationship may likely evolve over the years, and may take several forms. Depending on the specific needs and opportunities, there may be commercial and non-commercial ventures underway at any time. However, at least in the first years, these ventures will need to be supported through grants or be enabled through revenue sharing models. Thankfully the upfront costs are not insurmountable and it appears there are immediate opportunities needing minimal support to not only implement but to be successful.
3. There are several communities, towns and organizations in Costa Rica that
might benefit from the using the software you describe.
a) the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) might be interested
in the product.
The ICT would be a natural partner for several of our programs. They seem to have done a great job aggregating information on their website. A next step would be to increase the number of booking and e-commerce transactions on the site. Also increase the depth of information on local accommodations and activities through establishing easy content management tools that would let providers continually update information and enhance their presence. A tiered pricing schedule or other incentives could also promote participation in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program.
Additionally, this same information can be brought to visitor centers or information booths as well as kiosks in airports and cruise terminals. The addition of fax delivery to email confirmations would facilitate near-term booking and last-minute trip planning.
I would greatly enjoy spending few hours with the ICT discussing their current challenges and ideas they are certain to have but are not yet sure how to execute. We could then see which software and hardware programs might help augment existing strategies.
b) there is a specific interest in “Boatnet” in towns and areas which could use the access to develop more ecologically sound tourism, and
attract a more adventuresome type of tourism. Is this software also
Absolutely. The cooperative commerce program is certainly available and would be a low cost yet powerful and effective way to market internationally. In addition to its quick implementation, one of the most powerful aspects of Ecomshare's shared commerce tools is that participation requires minimal hardware and software investment. This system would let businesses fully describe their operations with multiple images, detailed information, email broadcasts, and interactive discussions. The cooperative engine lets all participants use the same core functionality and lets tourism providers affordably build comprehensive on-line brochures that allow and encourage bookings.
c) There are Associacions of Hotels, Bed and Breakfasts, as well
as an incipient “home stay” programs in rural, isolated towns in Costa Rica,
that attract tourism to the micro-level, all of which would benefit from
being connected online to a world audience. How do you think these could be
exposed to your proposals?
In addition to the community commerce systems, our reservation systems would allow entire associations to work together to encourage tourist visits. The already affordable distribution of materials through the Internet is difficult to leverage without affordable and easy systems to publish that same information to the Internet. This is exactly what our programs facilitate.
Even if these rural communities lack the infrastructure to book reservations on-line, creating detailed and comprehensive web-based directories will only increase exposure and encourage visits. We have also built systems that translate Internet orders to fax so that immediate notification can be provided to those with limited Internet access.
Country-wide implementation and management of these programs could be aided through existing foundation projects. Ongoing program management could be tied into a project like PANIAMOR Foundation's TecnoBus project increasing economic and educational benefit to rural communities. I believe nothing teaches like “real world” application, especially application that results in direct economic benefit!
In addition to the tourism industry, additional market sectors and associations can also benefit from this cooperative model. As new sustainable agricultural practices and goods from local craftsmen try to establish markets for products, this same cooperative commerce platform can enable them to compete regionally and globally. And existing established industries like coffee and retail can often benefit from the same model. This model of sharing a technological foundation and cooperative marketing creates competitive advantages across multiple sectors.
With regard to infrastructure challenges, there are some very exciting developments in to delivering high speed Internet access to rural areas1. We are currently partnered with a Wireless ISP and have begun our own initial experiments with broadband over powerlines (BPL) sometimes also referred to as powerline communications or PLC. This technology could help bring affordable global and intra-country communication to Costa Rica's rural areas. While establishing Internet access to rural areas certainly has merit on its own, much greater merit is realized by combining infrastructure upgrades with the corresponding educational and economic opportunities! Opportunities that give purpose to the infrastructure.
4. Would this software for use in Costa Rica have to be developed from
scratch, are you selling the product already complete, or are you indicating
you would be willing to share the software/your time at no cost with
volunteer communities in Costa Rica?
Many of our core software programs are developed and can be implemented in a matter of weeks. For instance, the Breckenridge program went from contract signing to processing reservations in 22 days. Depending on the particular program's scope, modifications would likely be made to custom fit the applications to Costa Rica's specific needs. As we have built these applications ourselves, an added benefit to each community is our ability to modify and enhance the software accordingly. In effect organizations and participating businesses get a custom solution able to adapt as needs and markets evolve.
Certainly several issues do need to be addressed prior to any implementation. We would need to evaluate whether Ecomshare should provide the servers and connectivity or if they can be hosted in Costa Rica. Additionally we'd need to determine what type of ongoing relationship would be required. This answer would depend on whether we provide these programs to an existing team of developers with Ecomshare (or myself) retained as a consultant or whether Ecomshare (or myself) would be deeply involved in program implementation and ongoing developments and enhancements. Each of these scenarios carries different levels of expense for myself and/or staff. Answers to questions like these would determine the Total Cost Ownership for the programs. The applications and raw code can generally be provided at a very affordable cost due to the aforementioned revenue sharing models.
This information would help to understand how best to make use of the
knowledge you so kindly offer, especially because Costa Rica has an adequate
community of software developers, but needs more experience with developing
Developing market realities through providing these programs will complement Costa Rica's existing foundation of talent and desire. Given the opportunity to fully implement these programs with the motivation of giving maximum long-term, educational and economic benefits in a manner allowing local control, local ownership, and subsequent local benefit, and striving to leverage affordable and license-free systems for managing and maintaining these systems, plus combining parts of this model to existing programs where appropriate; we can indeed create market realities and market success in a long term, sustainable fashion. Meeting these realistic objectives, we need only add local desire and talent to ensure years of success.
My personal and professional life have led me to believe this success is realistically obtainable provided the above conditions can be met. My desire now is to get involved in whatever manner best helps achieve this success or begins to create the conditions for this success. Whether this involvement takes the form of Ecomshare providing systems as a vendor, or splitting my own time between Ecomshare and a new entity, or being completely involved immediately will be decided by current opportunities and needs. I certainly hope my involvement only increases over the coming years as this is indeed a life's work. And as you can tell, I'm anxious to get started!