Outside view of the Magdas Hotel in Vienna. AP Photo/Ronald Zak/The Canadian Press

When the Vienna Tourist Board’s Helena Hartlauer publicized 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 refugee-staffed Magdas Hotel, whose apt motto is: “Stay open-minded.”

Careers for refugees

The hotel, says marketing manager Sarah Barci, uses a renovated former retirement home to provide all the amenities of a hotel, while creating jobs — careers, in fact — for refugees. Barci points out that while refugees face significant challenges when it comes to some careers, their language skills and cultural insights are 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.

A social enterprise

The hotel opened in early 2015, its start-up funded by a Caritas Vienna loan of 1.5 million euros ($2.2 million), topped off with about 57,000 euros ($83,000) raised through crowdfunding. That financed the purchase of hotel equipment (including 197 beds), although volunteer labour, donations of furniture and up-cycling — using materials from the original nursing home in new ways — kept costs as low as possible. The hotel has 78 rooms in five cost categories, with a salon lounge and bar, a garden, free Wi-Fi and seminar rooms. A room can cost between $80 and $190 per night. All income goes back into the social enterprise. The goal, says Barci, is not to make a significant profit, but to make a positive difference in the world.

Technician Antonio Piani, a 40-year-old Iranian Christian, works as a janitor. This is his first permanent position since leaving Iran more than 11 years ago. AP Photo/Ronald Zak/The Canadian Press

Beautiful, cultural, friendly

Along with 10 experienced staff, Magdas employs 20 refugees from places such as Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, Afghanistan and Iran. These former asylum-seekers have a chance at true integration through training, social acceptance and salaries that reflect industry standards. Guests writing online reviews of their stay at Magdas emphasize the unique and pleasant atmosphere, with comments like “a hidden gem,”  “such a beautiful, cultural, friendly hotel,” and “everything is just that little bit different.”

Sarah, from the Republic of Guinea, stands in the lobby where portraits of employees are displayed. Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Image

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