Global platform helps families of missing travellers to locate their loved ones
THERE were times when Veronica Hey was solo backpacking around the world that she would have benefitted from having the technology available that is now embedded into her safe-travel app, Ok Away.
The Ok Away SaaS B2C mobile app allows family and friends to connect while travelling – via GPS-enabled mapping, itinerary updates, information sharing and travel alerts.
Back in the late 1990s, though, young travellers were very much on their own when they encountered challenges such as missed plane and bus connections, lack of funds, lost credit cards, robbery and sexual harassment. If a young traveller went missing, parents were kept in the dark because privacy legislation in Australia favours those who choose to go Missing, rather than those who don’t. Authorities are not obliged to attempt to trace people who, for one reason or another, are happy to cover their tracks.
Hey herself faced some challenges: In Italy, a drunk tried to force himself into her railway carriage on a late-night train. She also had a scary encounter with a couple of local men in Switzerland following a night out. “When you are travelling in a group – initially I travelled on a Contiki trip – you think you are safe. I was always safety conscious and made sure I didn’t stand out in a crowd. But you do become complacent and take unnecessary risks.”
Hey, founder and CEO of Ok Away, becomes emotional when she talks about an Australian girl who disappeared from a nightclub in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2008. Her body was discovered by fishermen weeks later. The circumstances of her death remain a mystery. In response to largely unsuccessful efforts by the girl’s parents to uncover the truth of their daughter’s death, a Bill was introduced into the Australian parliament with the purpose of ensuring that families of Australians reported missing overseas were given essential help and their families was notified immediately.
Sadly, the Bill failed to get up, but Hey – who had left university with a degree in business tourism – was already moving independently to improve life on the road for young travellers.
She began looking into ways that technology could connect the travel community, communicate safety issues and even search for missing travellers. That was the start of the Missing Pages initiative, a global platform to assist the families of missing travellers faced with the often harrowing process of locating their loved ones.
“Time is of the essence when people go missing. families may be faced with language barriers, foreign customs, laws, bureaucracy, corruption, lack of resources or even natural disasters and war. “If they go missing in somewhere like India, for example, it’s very difficult to reach people, even on social media,” Hey says.
Missing Pages provides a resource for the families of missing travellers at no cost, with online ‘location targeted’ ad campaigns instantly reaching 100,000s of people. Campaigns are created in the local language, with leads passed onto family or relevant authorities.
“When I started developing the idea of Ok Away, GPS and geo-mapping technology was in its infancy. Now we can put the power in the hands of travellers through their smartphones.” Travellers can post their itinerary for a day trip or long trip abroad. Family and friends will be instantly notified when a new itinerary is created and they can view the upcoming trip, travel insurance information and other details. Followers will receive alerts when the traveller arrives and departs each location or if they are late to arrive.
Police authorities in Australia have welcomed the app, believing it has an important role in locating missing travellers.
Most recently, Ok Away has partnered with the Israeli Air Doctor platform, which helps travellers access doctors in 75 countries. Doctors have been vetted and speak their language via a link through the Ok Away app to the Air Doctor platform. “This means fewer travellers stranded if they fall ill abroad,” Hey says.
Ok Away is currently half-way through the US-based Newchip Accelerator Programme ahead of a launch to investors. “It has taught us a lot about pitching to investors,” Hey says. “It’s an exciting time to grow a travel tech platform with the return to travel. Now we are keen to form new partnerships in the travel space to expand further.