IMPACT

Refugees Run Vienna Hotel, Showing The True Meaning Of Hospitality

The hotel's motto is "stay open -- minded."

As politicians across Europe debate how to open their doors to a wave of immigrants, a hotel in Vienna, Austria, offers a reverse lesson in welcoming newcomers to a foreign place. 

At the Magdas Hotel, refugees serve as the hosts, making things easier for tourists arriving in an unfamiliar city.

More than 80 percent of the staff at the boutique hotel is made up of refugees, the National Post reports. Employees from countries like Morocco, Nigeria and Congo attend to guests at the check-in desk, serve meals in the cafe and tidy up in the rooms.

The Magdas opened in February, not long before Europe's migrant and refugee crisis became one of the continent's most vexing dilemmas. Hundreds of thousands of people have arrived in Europe this year alone, fleeing countries like Syria and Libya. In one measure of the scale of the human movement, the BBC reported that 980,000 people have applied for asylum in Europe this year.  

Employees interviewed in the video above by Thomson Reuters, however, are not newcomers to Vienna. Many said they'd been in Austria for years waiting for the government to process their asylum applications. Asylum-seekers are not permitted to legally work until their application has been approved. 

our team !! #ichmagdashotel #magdashotel #vienna #prater #socialbusiness

A photo posted by magdas Hotel (@magdas_hotel) on

Austria is at the center of the crisis, as migrants and refugees travel northward from the Balkans with many hoping to settle in Germany or other northern European countries. In November, Austria announced plans to construct a fence along its busy border crossing with Slovenia as a way to control the flow of people entering.

The maxim "Stay open -- minded" is one of the first things that appears on the hotel's website. The hotel's general manager, Sebastiaan de Vos, told NPR that "it's important to show that [refugees] come to Austria and bring qualifications with them."

Outside view of magdas hotel in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec, 17, 2015. Magdas is a trendy Vienna hotel where refugees&nbsp
Outside view of magdas hotel in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec, 17, 2015. Magdas is a trendy Vienna hotel where refugees aren't looking for shelter, but providing it. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Working in a hotel is a new experience for many of the employees, who need to be introduced to the principles of customer service. The video shows a manager teaching a teen the importance of making eye contact with guests.

"One is not just a manager," says a woman who runs Magdas' food and beverage services in the video above. "One is partly a counselor as well."

Staff get lessons in German and English. Because the refugees hail from disparate parts of the world, during their job interview they're asked if they are able to work with women or willing to handle alcohol, among other questions related to cultural sensitivities.

Rooms go for about $93 a night, according to information on TripAdvisor. Reviews on the hotel and travel review site are largely positive for the Magdas, with the hotel landing comfortably in the middle of the pack of Vienna's hotels.

Tayeb from Algeria prepares drinks in the lobby bar of hotel Magdas in Vienna, Austria on April 16, 2015.
Tayeb from Algeria prepares drinks in the lobby bar of hotel Magdas in Vienna, Austria on April 16, 2015.

A local chapter of the international Catholic charity Caritas owns the hotel, which was formerly a home for the elderly.

The hotel also provides actual refuge to young people seeking permission to live in Austria. The National Post reported in September that there were 25 minors under 18 living on the property while the government reviews their refugee paperwork. 

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