The Vienna hotel that employs refugees as an 'example to other companies'

PHOTO: Outside view of magdas hotel in Vienna, Austria, Dec, 17, 2015.PlayAP, FILE
WATCH Austrian hotel helps refugees gain work experience

Opened in 2015, the Magdas Hotel in Vienna, Austria, is more than the average boutique hotel. Its staff is made up of 20 migrants with refugee backgrounds who work side by side with 10 tourism professionals.

Migrants in Austria who have refugee backgrounds often face significant challenges to entering the job market. Such difficulties range from discrimination by employers to the standard hurdles of moving abroad, such as mastering a different language quickly.

The Magdas Hotel aims to address such gaps by training recently arrived refugees who have a background or interest working in hospitality.

“For most of them, it’s the first time they get the opportunity to work [in Austria],” hotel manager Martina Healy said. “The hotel business in Austria always needs employees and is looking for trained people, so this is a market where they really have a chance to find a job.”

The length of time each employee has to train varies. “They stay with us until they are, from our point of view, professionals and then we encourage them to move on and find work in another hotel – or they stay with us and become trainers for new groups here,” Healy explained.

The hotel opened as a social business — one that reinvests profit into projects for social good, as described by the charity Caritas, which organized the project.

Magdas was previously a nursing home, which architecture firm AllesWirdGut fitted with upcycled furniture. Guests here are encouraged to interact with staff and get to know one another.

Working in the kitchen, bar, housekeeping and reception, staffers from 16 countries speak over 20 languages, a skill Magdas Hotel management calls a major benefit for those working in the tourism industry.

Firas, a Kurd from northern Iraq who asked that his last name not be used, is doing an apprenticeship at the hotel. “I find it great,” he said when asked about his experience. “All the colleagues; the people working here are really nice. I really feel at home.”

After recent parliamentary elections, Austria is set to be ruled by a conservative coalition under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The 31-year-old ran on a platform of curbing immigration and cutting social benefits to migrants, among other elements.

In such a climate, projects like Magdas strive to combat misconceptions of people coming to Austria from the Middle East or Africa.

“Sometimes many companies hesitate to hire refugees,” hotel manager Healy said. “I think Magdas Hotel [is an] example to other companies and to other hotels.”