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City Safari began in Rotterdam in 1996. The city of Rotterdam commissioned Kees de Gruiter's firm 'Solutions for the City' to develop a tourist attraction in the area where the city center was to expand across the river. The city wanted the social housing districts of Feijenoord, Afrikaanderwijk and Katendrecht bordering on this development to benefit from the richer neighbors that would settle on the abandoned port facilities. Because tourism was a growth market at the time especially for jobs that do not require a higher education, a tourist attraction would contribute to growth in employment in the three neighboring districts.
Kees calculated that an attraction demands high investments of which only a small portion would end up in the local economy. It would be wiser to regard the districts of Katendrecht, Afrikaanderwijk and Feijenoord themselves as attractions. If the people who settled in the new central district were to visit interesting people and special places and spend their money in exotic shops, that would not only serve the local economy but a number of social causes as well. The rumors about no-go areas would be refuted, visitors get a more objective idea about the reality of the daily life in districts they would normally avoid and the hosts can show their hospitality, tell their story and thus boost their self esteem.
Long before the term came into vogue, City Safari got a very sustainable setup, by using only existing venues and moving from host to host on foot or with public transport, the ecological footprint is extremely small compared to other leisure activities. In combination with the social impact, City Safari complied with ISO26000 standard for social an environmental entrepreneurship from the start.
When Kees de Gruiter developed the concept in 1996 he decided that this should not be a subsidized project. ‘If people are not prepared to pay the real cost, the enterprise is not viable.' The city gave a one-off development subsidy in 1998 and ever since Marjolijn has operated City Safari as a for-profit enterprise. From that moment tens of thousands of private persons and employees of companies, institutions and government agencies have gotten acquainted with the daily life of the city. Over 120,000 personal encounters were established through City Safari so far.
Before the financial crisis of 2008 four people found employment in the City Safari headquarters. Cutbacks in companies and government austerity had dramatic effects and the staff was reduced to zero. While the operation continued on the backburner, in 2012 City Safari was reinvented as an international franchise organization. But finding entrepreneurs with all the qualities that we need and then expecting them to do things our way, proved to be too complex.
In the mean time, booking systems like Airbnb proved that every city in the world can be operated from one platform. What we needed was a network of agents who know the fabric of their city, understand what we are looking for and have the courage to go out there and approach people who never thought anyone would be interested in their story. That proved to be the right choice. Now agents in seven cities on three continents are building out our network of hosts and by the middle of 2020 we will be active in 24 cities around the world.