Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world.

Hotel con Corazón offers travelers more than just a comfortable room in the heart of Granada, Nicaragua. Through a stay at the hotel, travelers can help empower hundreds of children each year to build a brighter future. Hotel con Corazón invests all its profits in education programs and provides jobs and professional development training for local people, helping to break the cycle of poverty in the community.

Marcel Zuidhof, co-founder of Hotel con Corazón

More than half of students in Nicaragua drop out before they reach secondary school, according to the 2016 United Nations Human Development Report. Hotel co-founders Marcel Zuidhof and Onno Oostveen, both from the Netherlands, established Hotel con Corazón as a social enterprise dedicated to combating the high primary school dropout rate.

“What we try to achieve is that these kids and youngsters can take their future into their own hands by being better prepared for the labor markets,” Marcel said.

Marcel participated in the Booking.com Booster Program with us in May. Since then, he’s opened a new hotel location in Oaxaca, Mexico. We chatted with Marcel about the hotels’ impact, his goals for the future, and the growing segment of socially-conscious travelers.
 

Q: Why did you decide to found Hotel con Corazón?

 
Marcel: Onno, my business partner, and myself — we’re actually very close friends — we decided in 2006, after many years of working for our bank accounts, it was time to do something back for the world.

We wanted to start our own non-profit, but we didn’t want to have to collect money every year until our dying days. So we decided, why don’t we set up a business, then have the profits fund social projects? And since both of us already spoke Spanish, we chose Nicaragua as the country of development. Traveling around there we found out, first, the dropout rate in schools is very high, and secondly, that tourism was offering lots of opportunities.

So, combining those two factors, we thought the business will be a hotel, and we should dedicate the profits to educational projects that help keep kids in school.

Q: Does Hotel con Corazón develop these education programs or find programs in the communities to fund?

 
M: We prefer to search for partner NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that already have their networks in communities. However, in Nicaragua, we didn’t find a suitable partner, so we ended up developing our own program.

Our own program consists of six teachers that are on our payroll. In the afternoons, they give support classes to kids and youngsters in our program.
 

See more photos from education programs in Granada on the Hotel con Corazón site.

Q: So, 100% of the hotel profit goes to these programs?

 
M: Yes, that is in Nicaragua, because that hotel was founded completely with donations, so we don’t have to pay any rent, and we don’t have any interest or loan to pay back.

In Mexico, however, we just opened and we do have some financial obligations. Part of the investment was made with loans. We have some investors that would expect some kind of symbolic return, so this company is not 100% off profits anymore, but still it’s approximately ⅔ of profit that will go to education projects.

Q: Are the people who work at these hotels all from local communities?

 
M: Yes, in Nicaragua now, 100% of our staff is Nicaraguan. In Mexico, the management is Dutch, but all our staff is Mexican. In the first four to five years in Nicaragua, we had management from the Netherlands, but we always work with the rest of the staff being local.

Q: What is your startup’s long-term impact?

 
M: The long-term impact on the communities is that of the kids that come through our program, many more of them will have finished school. School is being seen by the community as more important, so slowly but steadily, the people from this community are becoming better prepared and more employable.

You can now see that parents are seeing the importance of education, where they themselves were never educated. In the community now, the ministry has now started a secondary school, where there wasn’t previously. So, a long-term impact is raising the level of the incomes on average in those communities.
 

Hotel con Corazón helps kids stay in school through tutoring classes, scholarships, and after-school programs.

Q: Do you feel like it’s a growing trend among travelers to want to connect more with local communities?

 
M: Absolutely. Although we don’t have any measures or precise reports that the segment of the socially-conscious traveler is growing, evidence is mounting up. More and more eco-lodges appear in the world, more and more social enterprises. You read everyday about how tourism is having a bigger impact. You see how people are offsetting their CO2.

There’s anecdotal evidence that the segment of the socially-conscious traveler is growing, and, yes, we feel we’re benefitting from it.

Q: How do you see your startup evolving over the next several years, and do you have an ultimate goal?

 
M: Over the next years, we want to grow from two to five hotels — so we want to build three more. We’ll focus on Central America. It’s because we speak the language, and we understand the way these countries are organized.

We see similarities between Mexico and Nicaragua where it comes to government system, tax system, building permits, building design — all that is so similar. One of the next countries we’re looking into is Costa Rica, where we’ve already seen very similar systems — government, tax and construction systems.

We know the region like the back of our hand, and that’s why we stick to Central America. After that, when we want to go further, we will be growing most likely to the rest of Latin America, but by then, and we’re speaking now over more than four years, who knows whether we will evolve to a group of hotels that will also look into other parts of the world. We definitely don’t want to stop with five hotels.

Our ultimate goal is that there will be hotels such as Hotel con Corazón all over the world, where more and more tourism dollars will flow into local communities instead of flow into the pockets of some Western shareholders, which in many hotels all over the world is the case.
 

The breakfast area in Hotel con Corazón’s Oaxaca location, which opened at the end of June

You can book with Hotel con Corazón on their website or through hotel booking sites, like Booking.com.