How a pair of trainers inspired a new breed of socially-responsible hotels…
It all began with a pair of shoes. Or, more accurately, the lack of a pair of shoes. Marten Dresen, the founder of Good Hotel, was travelling in Guatemala in 2006 when he met a young girl called Mirna who had no shoes. Dresen bought her a pair of trainers, which sparked the idea to launch Niños de Guatemala, an educational NGO which builds and operates schools in rural Guatemala.
The NGO got Dresen thinking. How could they generate a sustainable income for the schools while also providing quality skills training and employment for the graduates? “Out of the schools, we ended up doing a hospitality training programme,” says Dresen.
He explains that while many businesses now add a purpose or a social mission to their model, often because it’s on trend, Good Hotels started the other way round. “I needed a business where the profits could go to funding the schools, and the product provides jobs to the graduates. Hotels were the perfect product.”
The concept launched in 2013 in Amsterdam, where Dresen and his team trained five unemployed people over two months, and then served potential investors in a Michelin-starred restaurant, revealing the staff’s stories at the end of the evening.
It was a resounding success, and led to the opening of the first Good Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala, in 2016. “It’s a beautiful hotel that trains up people out of unemployment and takes on the kids that we have in our schools in Guatemala,” explains Dresen.
Around the same time, Dresen’s team was also renovating a decommissioned floating accommodation unit in Amsterdam, and this is where they launched the Good Training programme. The programme, which trains around 100 people out of unemployment each year and helps them find jobs with local partner hotels, was another success story, and in 2016, the hotel moved to London’s Docklands.
“With the Good Hotel, we aim to show that it is possible to combine doing business and doing good at the same time,” explains Dresen “The value that has been created is so much more than financial. It’s human value.”
Since launching, hundreds of local out-of-work residents have been trained up, including classroom training and paid work experience over four months. The latest hotel, in Guatemala City, opened in 2022. It works, explains Dresen, because they keep things simple. “Beautifully designed hotels, a great team who believe in our brand and values, and we have kept control of the business so we can be both bold and nimble. We never wait until everything is perfect; we learn and iterate as we go. That’s our super power.”
It goes without saying that the hotels are run as sustainably as possible, supporting and working with local suppliers. 100% of profits from the Guatemala hotels go to Niños de Guatemala, while the London hotel funnels its profits into the Good Global Foundation, which funds social projects around the world.
How can others learn from the success of Good Hotels? “Start with what you’re passionate about, and how you want to see impact in the world and then find a product or business that can support that impact,” says Dresen.
He is hoping to open more Good Hotels in the future. “When people come to our hotels and see our concept come to life and meet our people, that’s when it really clicks. You feel it. It’s there.” By staying there, he says, guests know that they are sending children to school in Guatemala and training team members in the hotel they are staying in. “The impact of the money they spend with us is direct and tangible. Unlike some other hotels, we don’t ask for extra money at check out for charity; it is built into our business model. Guests literally do good in their sleep when they stay with us.”