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“Stay open-minded. Stay with us.”

By Paul Knowles (first published in The United Church Observer)

When the Vienna Tourist Board’s Helena Hartlauer told some lunching and munching media about a new hotel in her Austrian city, no one was surprised. A travel rep promoting an accommodation facility? That’s her job. What was surprising, though, was absolutely everything else about the Magdas Hotel, whose apt motto is, “Stay open-minded. Stay with us.”

 

Creating careers for refugees

The hotel, says Marketing Manager Sarah Barci, is built on a win-win premise – it utilizes a renovated retirement home to provide all the amenities of a hotel, while creating jobs – in fact, careers – for refugees, in these days when Europe faces  a massive influx of asylum seekers for whom jobs are terribly scarce. Barci points out, though, that while refugees face significant challenges when it comes to some careers, their variety of languages, skills and cultural insights are ideal assets in the hospitality industry. Magdas Hotel was founded by the Caritas Vienna Social Business Group, which “shares the mission of the Catholic church” to “promote charity and justice”, according to the Caritas website. The Vienna affiliate aims “to address social matters through a market approach.”

Social enterprise

The hotel opened in early 2015, its start-up funded by a Caritas Vienna loan of 1.5 euros, topped off with about 57,000 euros raised through crowdfunding. That financed the purchase of hotel equipment (including 197 beds), although volunteer labour, donations of furniture, and “upcycling” – using materials from the original nursing home in new ways – kept costs as low as possible. Now, all profits go back into the social enterprise – although Barci points out that the goal is not to make a significant profit, but to make a difference for good. Currently, Magdas employs 20 former refugees, along with 10 experienced staff who come from Austria, Poland and Africa, says Barci.

“Quirky and cool”

The hotel has 78 rooms in five cost categories, with amenities you would expect in a decent hotel – a salon lounge and bar, a garden, free wifi, and seminar rooms. A room can cost between $80 and $190 Canadian. People who stay at Magdas Hotel like it a lot – and not just because of its noble intent. In internet reviews, they stress the unique and pleasant atmosphere, with comments like “a real hidden gem,” “a quirky hotel with retro cool furniture,” “a really warm welcome at the Magdas”, “such a beautiful, cultural, friendly hotel,” and “everything is just that little bit different, which keeps you guessing and amused.”