“We realized they were the ideal people to work in tourism. They’re well traveled, speak multiple languages, and many of them come from countries where being a host comes naturally,” Gabriela Sonnleitner told Condé Nast Traveler. She and her colleagues from the international charity Caritas had been helping newly arrived refugees settle into life in Austria, but with many experiencing difficulties finding work it was this light bulb moment that provided the ideal solution. And so Caritas, which has a network of over 1,000 social assistance programs in Austria alone, decided to open a hotel in Vienna, staffed largely by refugees.
That was back in 2014, and today the Magdas Hotel in the heart of Prater Park employs and is managed by immigrants, former refugees and professionals from 14 different nationalities. The 88-room hotel is housed on the site of a former retirement home, converted with a €1.5m loan from the charity and €60,000 raised through crowdfunding. And what was initially a worthy charity project offering jobs and training, has since developed into a thriving business which, thanks in no small part to its multicultural and multilingual staff, offers guests a refreshingly inclusive yet diverse service.
Each one of the hotel’s rooms is unique. Magdas has a homely, retro feel, courtesy of the upcycled furniture and many welcome donations that fill the space, including wardrobes from former train carriages gifted by the Austrian rail service and lampshades hand-knitted by a team of volunteers. And the bold, one-of-a-kind murals that line the walls are by students from the nearby Academy of Fine Arts. In line with Magda’s eco-conscious ethos, bathrooms feature custom-brand toiletries from local environmentally friendly suppliers, and it’s local dishes and wines that are served in the restaurant, or outside on the garden terrace in the warmer weather.
“When we announced the project, it was really difficult,” Sonnleitner told Condé Nast Traveler, but in addition to providing the refugees with valuable workplace skills the hotel is now also building bridges between communities. Around Austria, other businesses are now following Magdas’s lead with more hotels planning apprenticeship schemes, and some considering similar standalone projects. And there’s also a sibling restaurant, Magdas LOKAL, in Klagenfurt in the south of the country.
Photos: Alleswirdgut / Guilherme Silva Da Rosa