A Hotel with Heart

Hotel Etico, Australia’s first social enterprise hotel offers young people with special needs invaluable training in hospitality.

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By Julie Miller

When Project Etico – an Italian-born charity that aims to remove barriers to employment for young adults with learning disabilities – was looking for a home for its first Australian hotel, the availability of the historic mansion Mount Victoria Manor seemed serendipitous.

“When this property came on the radar, we realised that this building was built by John Fairfax; and one of our philanthropic supporters is the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. We thought there might be an opportunity there, it seemed to fall into place,” says Project Etico Australia director Andrea Comastri. “The Blue Mountains community is also very close-knit and socially-conscious, we thought the concept would work well here.”

The result is Hotel Etico – Australia’s first social enterprise hotel, providing vocational training and independent living skills for young adults with learning disabilities. Opening its doors in November 2020, the program has since seen six trainees learn all aspects of hospitality, from housekeeping to bartending and working in the kitchen.

"The traditional way of employing people with disabilities has been in sheltered workshops, back of the warehouse packing things," Comastri says. "The way of knocking down barriers is to expose people to that reality. We all have challenges, some more than others – it's just a matter of supporting people. And we strongly believe that work is a way to dignity and a way to independence."

With the first intake about to graduate, another 12 trainees are beginning their year’s placement at the hotel, with some living on-site during their three-day work week at the Academy of Independence. Here, the trainees learn how to share a living space, cook and cater for themselves, all the while gaining friendships and camaraderie with fellow trainees.

"The skills I have learned have made a huge difference to me,” says 26-year-old trainee Katrina. “I have learnt to work in a team, and found some very special friends. It has really boosted my confidence. Hotel Etico has really inspired me to open doors to possibilities that I haven't noticed before and to job options in the future."

With the trainees front and centre of hotel operations, Hotel Etico guests have the opportunity to chat with them, learn their stories, and appreciate the nurturing environment the hotel provides. A stay here is a holiday that creates opportunities – empowering young people to fulfil their dreams of independence.

For bookings and more information, visit hoteletico.com.au

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