ONCE UPON A TIME …

… there were two young professionals: Marcel Zuidhof and Onno Oostveen. Having gained broad experience in (international) business, they were both eager to embark on a new venture; a next step in their professional careers and an opportunity to contribute to the lives of others. They wrote a business plan, established a foundation and started raising funds.

Here’s the full story:

2005 – Marcel and Onno meet as colleagues at Verizon and become good friends. During one of their “walking vacations” in Spain, the idea grows to undertake something for a good cause. The desire to make a career move tips the balance. They decide they want to set up a business in a developing country and channel the profits to a good cause. Because they both speak Spanish they aim at Latin America and pick Nicaragua, political stable but one of the poorest countries in the region.

Jan/06 – Early in 2006 the two of them leave on a research trip to Nicaragua. Two major questions need to be answered. What does this country need most in terms of development? And are there any business opportunities to generate a sustainable source of income to finance the development cause?

They learn that Nicaragua has an enormous percentage of children that never finish school. Many families live below the poverty line and need their children to earn the family income. At the same time, the beautiful landscape and warm climate make the country an ideal location for generating income through tourism. They return with ample ammunition to work out the business plan.

Apr/06 – After months of working behind the scenes, the plan goes public. At a presentation in Amsterdam, family and friends are the first ones to learn about the details and the first “shareholders” confirm their commitment. The acquisition, renovation and furnishing of the building will cost 485,000 EUR. The entire investment capital is acquired via fundraising, primarily in the Netherlands.

Sep/06 – On September 28, Foundation Hotel con Corazón is officially registered in the Netherlands.

Oct/06 – The Foundation receives a decisive endorsement and corresponding funding from two large institutional donors: Wilde Ganzen and NCDO.

Jan/07 – Marcel and Onno give up their jobs and leave for Nicaragua. There they will live for two years on their savings. This means that all funds raised are invested 100% in the purchase, renovation and start-up capital of the hotel.

Mar/07 - Fundación Hotel con Corazón is officially registered as a charitable institution by the public authorities in Nicaragua. This means that it can legally buy a property and is eligible for certain tax benefits.

Jul/07 – The search for a suitable building takes almost half a year. On July 30 the paperwork is signed. Further negotiations and architecturale drawings take another couple of months.

Oct/07 – Lots of patience and significant investment in the relationship with the local authorities have paid off. On October 16 the local government approves the preliminary reconstruction permit for the hotel. Just before Christmas they also approve the detailed designs.

2007 to 2008 – This school year, Hotel con Corazón is one of two official good causes supported by the School for Hospitality Management NHTV in Breda, the Netherlands. On top of that, a final year student, Hester van Toll, joins the team in Granada during the first half of 2008 to help prepare for the opening of the hotel.

Jan/08 – Contracts with three constructors are signed. Within days about 30 Nica’s are walking in and out of the property, taking down walls, excavating trees and drawing construction lines. The overall reconstruction of the existing building and construction of the new wing lasts through to September, employing approximately 60 locals six days a week. And no less than 36 friends come from abroad to roll up their sleeves as well.

2008 – After two months, the ground floor of the new building is already finished. In April the roof of the old building is restored to its original state. A 10,000-liter water tank is buried in the back yard and the search for special and affordable inventory starts. In June the conclusion is drawn that Hotel con Corazón is well on schedule to open its doors after the summer.

Aug/08 – The first hotel employees are hired. An ongoing stream of people interested in working at the hotel passes by “Casa Mango”, the home base for Marcel, Onno and many volunteers from abroad. In the meantime, the hotel starts sponsoring two Granada-based educational foundations: Empowerment International and La Esperanza.

Oct/08 – October 11 is the big day: the grand opening of Hotel con Corazón performed by the Dutch ambassador. More than ten people fly in from the Netherlands and other places to celebrate this momentous occasion together. Many local friends and relations join in. Admittedly, the day after the grand opening the hotel is closed again for two weeks to complete the final touches. But then we are ready for the tourism season.

Winter/09 – Daily management is handed over to Freek Sanders. Freek (1971), entrepreneur: “After a serious talk with a friend I realized I had some unfulfilled dreams. One was taking a biking tour through the States with my dad; the other was running a hotel. What is more fun than making people have an unforgettable stay at a hotel?” A year later he packed his bags and moved to Granada. Freek stayed on through the spring of 2010.

Marcel and Onno return to the Netherlands to start new business ventures. Both stay actively involved as members of the board.

Spring/09 – A few month laters, Kim Oostveen joins Freek to set up the Corazón education program. Together they launch the first Corazón education pilot. Kim, yes indeed Onno’s sister, had been in Granada during the construction phase and decided to come back to start Tree House Travels, a local experience travel agency. Because of her passion for education she got quickly drawn into the educational activities as well. In the spring of 2010 she handed over the local coordination to the new Education Manager Skartleth Bermúdez. Upon return in the Netherlands Kim decided to join the Board.

May/10 - To cover the interim period between the new mangers Hans & Monique van Hal will arrive in the Fall of 2010, Jiska van Duijnhoven takes care of business and ensures a smooth transition. She manages the hotel during the summer period. Upon return from a trip around the world, she decides to continue her involvement by joining the Board.

Fall/10 - The new management team Hans and Monique van Hal arrive from the Netherlands, together with their one-and-a-half-year old son Nassim. Monique: “We have always dreamed of a foreign adventure. Not just traveling abroad for a few weeks, but to experience a different culture from the inside.” Hans: “Because of the great work done by our predecessors, we took over the hotel in perfect shape. The financial system had just been updated and maintenance had been carried out. That gave us some time to get used to our new role.” Back in the Netherlands, Hans worked as an independent telecommunications consultant and Monique as executive secretary at a large engineering firm.

Apr/12Geertje van der Pas and Joost van Duin take over the management role. Joost has a lot of working experience as interim manager in the energy industry; Geertje is a freelance developer of educational material for television. When they return to the Netherlands a year and a half later, they join the board to support the new management team from the Netherlands.

Feb/13 – 75 “wannabe” hotel entrepreneurs gather in Amsterdam to learn all about Hotel con Corazón’s expansion plans. Open 10 new Hotels with a Heart in the next 10 years.

Aug/13 – Management responsibilities are handed over to Marcela Mayorga and Boris Francoise. The new management couple offers local and international culture and expertise. Marcela is Nicaragua. Boris was born and raised in France. They both bring extensive tourism experience as well as involvement with social causes in Nicaragua.

Feb/14 – On Valentines Day we launched our crowdfunding platform to raise investment capital for new hotel operations around the world! In the making: Cambodia, Mexico, Suriname and a second hotel in Nicaragua (Léon).

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