How Austria’s first social business hotel is making the world a fairer place

© Peter Bárci

The “Magdas Hotel” is Austria’s first social business hotel and shows with its unique concept how the world can be made a little better “while you sleep”. Because here, refugees look after the guests. This not only creates a very special atmosphere but above all helps to integrate people with a refugee background.

Magdas Hotel is located not far from the Prater and the Danube Canal, in the midst of greenery and the chirping of birds, and at the same time at the pulse of the city and its nightlife venues. In addition to the ideal location, it is above all the unique concept of the hotel that has attracted travelers from all over the world since its opening in 2015. The hotel is run by refugees in apprenticeship and hotel experts with and without refugee experience. In collaboration with artists, students, and architects, a place has been created here that creates space for encounters and goes far beyond the classic boundaries of a hotel.

There is still a lot of resentment 

Refugees still have a difficult time in the Austrian labor market. There are many reasons for this: possible language barriers at the beginning, possible resentment on the part of some employers, and the fact that obtaining a positive residence permit – which is the only way to take up work in the first place – is very time-consuming, making the integration of people with a refugee background more difficult.

A colorful place of togetherness

Magdas wants to offer people with refugee backgrounds an attractive alternative. People from a total of 16 nations, who together speak more than 20 languages, work here. By no means all of the employees have previously worked in a hotel or in the tourism industry.

© Peter Bárci

The salon, which is the heart of the establishment, also has a bar and lounge, terrace and library, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the greenery. There are cacti and yucca palms in many places, well-stocked bookshelves, and graffiti on the wall. In the evenings, there is a varied program of readings, exhibitions, concerts, film evenings, and discussions. Here you will not only meet tourists but also people from the neighborhood and city strollers, who are also welcome here at any time.

Getting creative during the pandemic

Due to the current situation, such meetings are no longer possible for the time being. The Magdas Hotel has recently reopened, but tourist overnight stays were forbidden for a long time because of the Corona crisis, and so things have been a bit quiet at Magdas lately. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, however, the operators got creative. Without further ado, the second floor of the building was converted into a pop-up office. An advertising agency from Vienna, which was looking for suitable commercial space, rented the space until August. In this way, the abandoned hotel rooms have been revived and at least some financial security has been restored to the operators. Those who also wanted to support the hotel during this difficult phase were able to pick up breakfast boxes and other goodies for sale outside the hotel on weekends. In the meantime, however, the hotel is once again accepting reservations for sleeping and eating and is enticing guests with its Magdas Fresh Air Guarantee. Because the hotel has a large guest garden, rooms with balconies, and seminar rooms with their own terraces.

From a former retirement home to a sustainable city hotel

A look at the history of the hotel shows that the operators were creative even before the crisis: The Magdas was once a retirement home. Today, the hotel has a total of 78 rooms, many of which have their own balcony – which is also very untypical for a city hotel. The rooms feature many re- and upcycled elements as well as furniture from the 50s and 60s. For example, tables, lamps, and benches were built from old built-in cupboards, armchairs cut in half became bedside cabinets, and discarded ÖBB luggage racks were transformed into wardrobes. 

© Peter Bárci

The unique project was financed with the help of Caritas and a crowdfunding campaign. Thanks to the support of the Federal Ministry for Digitalization, an apprentice business was also added to the hotel in 2017. Under the motto “Creating prospects”, 12 young people with a refugee background are currently being trained here in the various hotel areas.

Focus on humanity and openness

Instead of maximizing profit, the hotel operators at Magdas focus on maximizing humanity and openness. They have recognized that places of encounter must be created in order to decisively counteract prejudice and resentment, and they have created just such a place with the Magdas Hotel. As a visitor, you can look forward to people with moving life stories, funny anecdotes, and a large portion of cordiality.

© Peter Bárci

© Peter Bárci

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