The rapid growth of Hotel Etico Australia has prompted its CEO and Co-founder Andrea Comastri to start considering expansion plans for Australia’s first social enterprise hotel.
Run out of the Mount Victoria Manor in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Hotel Etico operates on an employment and training model, where the hotel and its restaurant is staffed by live-in hospitality trainees with disabilities, who are supported by industry professionals.
Andrea this week told me that the time is right to start seriously considering who Hotel Etico partners with for the next stage of growth and expansion to other sites across Australia.
“We have one site in Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains, but we are gearing up to expand into other sites. The time is right to sort of start talking and looking seriously about who we could partner with to add other sites.
“We have the model, we have evidence that it works, that it is pretty much self-sustaining. So yeah, the time is right.”
Four or five layers of impact
The Hotel Etico model — the vision for which emerged in Italy in 2006 — facilitates a work, training and live-in program for people with disabilities, enabling them to transition to open employment and become more independent.
“There are four or five layers of our impact, and they all seem to be working really well”.
Just as important as the training component of the model, is the independent living component. As the trainees live on site, they not only learn hospitality skills but also independent living skills. From day one trainees are paid full award wages, supported on the job while gaining training in hospitality.
Yet as Andrea highlighted, the positive impact is not just on the trainees themselves and their families, but on the general population. He explained, “every guest that comes through the door comes into contact with the trainees at work. And so their perspectives about disability employment is transformed by interacting with them in a work setting.”
Further, all graduates are supported in securing employment after graduation and continue to be supported by Hotel Etico in their ongoing employment via support for the employers.
Post-graduation employers include some big names in the hospitality and tourism industries, the likes of The Fullerton Hotel in Sydney, Sofitel, Mercure Hotel, the Fairmont Resort in the Blue Mountains and others. Hotel Etico supports these employers in developing inclusive employment practices — an important added element of its social impact.
“The evidence is that pretty much everyone that has come through the program has secured a job and maintains a job or has moved on to other jobs.”
Since training began in 2021, trainee intake increased from six to 12, and then to 15 trainees with disability — each supported through the program over a minimum of 12 months, and supported in external employment for another 12 months minimum.
Having grown the trainee intake side of the business, Andrea also notes that “we’ve grown the business itself where hotel occupancy keeps growing. We’re open seven days and have a restaurant that is successful”.
Hotel Etico opened in November 2020 and began the training program in February 2021, relying on substantial philanthropic support. However, “we are moving to a place where philanthropy has become just a way to support growth, rather than sustain our business on a day to day basis. As the business keeps growing, the model marries the social enterprise with the training and the employment,” said Andrea.
He explained that while the program still receives about 15% of its funding through philanthropic avenues, donations or fundraising, it will close this financial year with somewhere in the range of $3.2 million to $3.5 million dollars of revenue. This allows for more and more of that funding to be directed at growth initiatives, rather than paying wages and the day to day expenses of running the business.
And if you’re heading to the Blue Mountains, be sure to book a table or a room at Hotel Etico.