Support Refugees When You Travel: magdas HOTEL

Front desk staff at magdas HOTEL © Aleksandra Pawloff

By Allie Murray

When magdas HOTEL opened in 2015, the refugee crisis was beginning to take flight in Europe. According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries torn apart by war.

With their location in the heart of Vienna, the owners at magdas HOTEL knew refugees would begin arriving in their area looking for a place to live, work, and create a new life. And they were right—Austria hosts around 146,000 refugees and more than 18,000 asylum seekers.

The hotel, which had always referred to itself as a social business, focused on opening jobs to refugees and asylum seekers.

“Our opening was very timely, as it coincided with the refugee crisis,” Chief Executive Gabriela Sonnletiner told the UNHCR. “Motivated people wanting to work arrived when the labour market was looking for workers. Those two don’t often come together, especially in hospitality, where you need quality staff.”

magdas HOTEL © Walter Luttenberger

As part of the social business group magdas, which was founded by Caritas of the Archdiocese of Vienna, the hotel became Austria’s first social business hotel when they opened their doors some eight years ago. By operating as a social business, they aim to give people a chance. Since they began offering jobs to refugees, they have been able to employ more than 80 refugees.

“As Austria’s first social business hotel, we aim to give people who had to flee their countries a chance and access to the job market,” Sonnletiner explained. “And to find a job or training position far from rejection based on origin, religion, language barriers or skin colour.”

In addition to the refugees they employ, magdas HOTEL also strives to make a difference with the design of the rooms. The furnishings are made with upcycling design, and at their first location, furnishings were donated.

Photo © Julia Geiter

At the hotel, the goal was to reuse as much as possible to reduce the production of waste. Parts of the interior are renovated pieces from the ’60s and ’70s, and the design of the hotel was put together with the support of volunteers and local artists. Notably, the hallways were transformed into exciting works of art by Michaela Polacek, who drew a mural on the walls and designed the bathroom cups with an individualized look for every room.

The rooms themselves also have artwork made by local artists Franza Maier, Ivana Kralj and Elisa Schlifke. If you fall in love with one of the pieces, you can take it home with you—after paying for it at reception, of course.

The hotel has also added greenery in a unique way—replacing a former parking lot with a garden. There are also climbing plants on the façade of the building and large plant troughs embellished on the rooftop terrace.

magdas LOKAL © Walter Luttenberger

The hotel also features a restaurant, magdas LOKAL, making breakfast, lunch, and dinner with organically farmed produce. While the restaurant features Austrian flavours, the menu also includes international specialties. The cuisine is influenced by the staff who have been able to introduce their cuisine to the hotel.

magdas HOTEL is creating a new experience for travellers, influencing the travel industry to adjust their business model to match an ever-changing world. By opening their doors to refugees, magdas hopes more hotels around the world follow suit, allowing the process to be simpler for those seeking refuge.

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