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Hotel Etico: A powerful “change agent”

The Blue Mountains hotel is staffed by hospitality trainees with disability alongside industry professionals

Hotel Etico, the first social enterprise hotel in Australia is helping young people with a disability to step into rewarding careers in hospitality.

Based in the Blue Mountains, Hotel Etico is staffed by hospitality trainees with disability alongside industry professionals. It’s a unique business model that aims to break down barriers preventing people with disabilities from achieving their full potential.

Hotel Etico

Hotel Etico uses an integrated program of on-the-job vocational training, coaching in capacity building, and independent living onsite with carer support to facilitate a pathway to employment and life skills.

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Given Australians living with disability face unemployment rates significantly higher than the rest of the population, Hotel Etico provides young people with disability a viable path to employment and independent living.

According to the Australian Network on Disability, there are 2.1 million Australians of working age with disability. Of these, just under half were employed (47.8 percent), compared with 80.3 percent of people without disability. Additionally, almost one in five (18.9 percent) of people with disability aged from 15 to 24 years reported experiencing discrimination.

Hotel Etico: A powerful “change agent”

Based on a model from Italy, Hotel Etico Australia co-founder and CEO Andrea Comastri said that after hearing about the success of the program overseas, he instantly fell in love with the idea.

“The model sounded very solid, visionary, and innovative. I immediately wanted to get involved, and said ‘let’s make it happen’,” Mr Comastri told us.

The model offers on-the-job training to young people with disability, they learn valuable hospitality skills while being paid an award wage. Hotel Etico trainees also live onsite to further increase their life skills and independence.

“The trainees live in what is known as the Academy of Independence, which is a supported apartment that’s part of the hotel,” Mr Comastri said.

“They live there for the whole duration of their program, which is a minimum of 12 months. The program is a combination of learning work, hospitality, and independent living skills. It sets trainees up for very good opportunities in life, developing independence and a life of dignity and inclusion.”

Hotel Etico

The benefits of the Hotel Etico model stretch beyond the trainees themselves, also helping to shift preconceived beliefs and attitudes within the wider community.

“Other layers of impact are created, exposing the mainstream community of guests to people with a disability in an open work environment,” he explained. “Transforming perceptions and knocking down barriers daily.”

Additionally, Hotel Etico works with employers and hospitality businesses to create long-term partnerships and help secure employment for trainees post-graduation.

“At the end of the program, we support our graduates to secure open employment in the hospitality and tourism sector. We’ve lined up a series of significant partnerships with well-known brands. We help our trainees find jobs and help make those jobs become careers.

“We also use resources and participate in cultural workshops to encourage confidence in employing people with disability. We aim to change the culture of workplaces.”

For the hospitality and tourism industry, the launch of Hotel Etico couldn’t have come at a better time, with a worker shortage continuing to plague the industry post-pandemic.

According to hospitality industry jobs platform, Barcats Australia, the country needs an “army” of hospitality workers to fill an estimated 200,000 jobs nationwide.

To help meet industry demand and upskill as many young people as possible, Mr Comastri said the goal was to see a Hotel Etico in every Australian state and territory.

“We are on the search for partners and looking for properties for our next Hotel Etico location. Over the next four months, we will have tangible plans for future sites. It’s very exciting,” he revealed.


Given the industry’s current focus on accessibility, Mr Comastri believes there is no better time for the model to expand into additional locations.

“It’s about inclusion and you can’t be what you can’t see,” he said. “If you see someone with a disability working in a hotel, you get inspired. We hear many stories about how we’ve changed lives.”

“One example that comes to mind is about one of our original graduates, Josh. While undertaking work experience at the Fairmont Resort in the Blue Mountains, Josh was serving breakfast. Later that morning the general manager shared with us that a couple of guests revealed to him a very personal story – their daughter-in-law in the US had just received news that the baby she was carrying had Down Syndrome.

“They were feeling lost, in shock, and unsure of what the future looked like when they walked in for breakfast that morning.

“Then they were served by Josh, a 34-year-old man with Down Syndrome who greeted them with a big smile and a great personality while performing his job with great skill. Without even knowing it, Josh became a ‘change agent’.

“The couple also reached out (to us) and said this interaction had quite literally changed their lives because suddenly, the world of possibility for their unborn grandchild opened up.”

Hotel Etico welcomes inquiries from businesses and individuals looking to partner with them. Please email Andrea at [email protected].

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