Where refugees become hosts

By Gabriela Sonnleitner, Magdas Hotel, Austria

In the current climate in the EU it can be difficult for refugees to find work. magdas HOTEL in Austria combats this problem by hiring refugees and focusing on maximisation of societal benefits, humanity and openness as opposed to just the maximisation of profit.

magdas HOTEL creates a new open space of encounter for people from all over the world. In one of Vienna’s biggest recreation grounds, the Prater, a former Caritas care home was transformed into a hotel. The majority of staff consists of recognised refugees. In Austria people with a refugee background usually face huge obstacles finding employment. At magdas HOTEL we prove that these people are a great resource for Austria.

The message we try to get across to Austrian society with magdas HOTEL is: Refugees are welcome!

Dinis Angsberg is one of them. Dinis had to leave Guinea-Bissau due to political reasons. He is fluent in five languages but was not allowed to work in Austria for almost ten years. What a waste of talent! The message we try to get across to Austrian society with magdas HOTEL is: Refugees are welcome! We want to demonstrate that these people want and are able to live a self-determined and self-confident life. In Austria – as in many other European countries – access to the job market for asylum seekers is very limited. Very often refugees are condemned to lead a life in stand-by positions. Refugees have no access to the job market and therefore no perspectives and no hope to play an active part in society. magdas HOTEL aims to address social and economic problems with entrepreneurial tools. The focus is not the maximisation of profit, but the maximisation of societal benefits, humanity and openness.

From modest resources – come great things…

The project is based in a former Caritas retirement home. To enable the adaptation of the building, on a limited budget, upcycling was a key element from the start. With help from renowned architects AllesWirdGut and artist Daniel Buechel, the nine month turnaround involved taking fitted cupboards from the original nursing home, and turning them into benches, tables and lamps. Old doors became new mirrors – and even luggage racks from Austrian trains now hold suitcases in each room. Enthusiastic volunteers got involved at every stage, from knitting lampshades to growing herbs in the garden.

Students and staff from the neighbouring Academy of Visual Arts have produced art to decorate each room, meaning every guest has a unique view. The design of each room was completed by furniture donated by the public, and also Caritas’s own used furniture shop, CARLA. This all goes to show that commitment, flexibility and creative ideas can more than make up for limited financial means. In 2015 magdas HOTEL was rewarded with the Austrian State Prize for Design.

Main achievements

The magdas HOTEL project has been an undeniable success. The hotel employs thirty people out of which twenty are refugees. They come from sixteen different countries, including Nigeria, Guinea, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. They also feature very different religious backgrounds, and there is a perfect gender balance among employees. All these people cooperate together, united by this common project, which could be an excellent example for other organisations.

In the future

magdas HOTEL has two main objectives for the future. The first one will be to ensure the financial sustainability of the magdas HOTEL in Vienna in the medium-term. To fulfil this goal, the staff works hard to achieve an average booking rate of 75 %, which is deemed sufficient to make sure the business continues to prosper. The second big ambition of the organisation is to develop a Magdas Social Franchise to facilitate the creation of other magdas HOTEL run by refugees throughout the European Union. magdas HOTEL is therefore currently looking for new partners in other Member States.


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