Several of ITP’s member companies have properties in countries which have been affected by the refugee crisis. Having seen how employability programmes like YCI can help disadvantaged young people around the world, many are keen to find ways to employ or offer hospitality skills training to refugees. In many countries there are obstacles to this so ITP Programme Coordinator Alex Lee interviewed hotelier Michael Stober on his experiences of employing refugees.
The concept of hospitality comes from the ancient Greek xenía; the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. When people are involuntarily far from home and with little hope of returning, the need for hospitality becomes ever greater. This is the case for an estimated 60 million people migrating their home countries, creating more than 21 million refugees worldwide (UNHCR). The hotel industry is in a unique position to support the lives of refugees all over the world, resonating with the core purpose and raison d’etre of the business.
There have been stories of small hotels hosting refugees. In Italy, a Tuscan hotel houses 38 refugee families and gives them opportunity to work, learn and share their cultures through cooking for the local communities. ITP members have contributed to the training of young migrants in Brazil and Mexico through the Youth Career Initiative, enabling young people to develop life and work skills.
Offering employment opportunities to refugees is the ultimate way that businesses can help individuals, families and communities rebuild their lives. We interviewed Green Hotelier Award Winner (Europe) 2017, Landgut Stober, CEO and Owner Michael Stober about his experience of being the first company in Brandenburg (Germany) to employee refugees.
ITP: What motivated you to employ refugees at your hotel?
MS: I think in any place in Europe we have the problem to get people working in hospitality so I thought about giving refugees the opportunity. There are plenty of prejudices about these communities in Germany and elsewhere, such as the perception that refugees are here to take advantage of European countries. I thought by employing refugees I will be able help break these prejudices. At the same time I take refugees where I cannot get German employees, and where the positions do not require refugees to have English or German language skills. These are housekeeping, kitchen, and maintenance. To find people from this community, I went to the job centre and asked for people who did not speak German or English and could do these back of house jobs. The candidates still need the will to work and the feel for hospitality. It has worked well for us at Landgut Stober; one of our employees who is a refugee has been with us now for one and a half years.
ITP: Can you tell us about any challenges that you have experienced in employing refugees?
MS: We have a diverse workforce at Landgut Stober with 60 full time employees and 150 seasonal workers. This means that I have employees who sympathise with the right wing of German politics, and do not support the state of refugees in this country. So my first challenge was how can I get the team to welcome the refugees? So I took the translator from the jobcentre to find out one of our first refugee candidate’s story.
I heard of how the man had some of his family killed, and some of them lost. He walked a few hundred kilometres to come to Germany, a journey which almost killed him.
I brought this story to my team and explained that he wants to work with you, and hope that you want to work with him. This changed their perception, from ‘this is a refugee’ to ‘this is a human’, and they took him into their arms and into the team. It is very important to make the team aware and have them open to welcoming a new employee as a human.
Another challenge I experienced was due to the German administration policy of encouraging the refugees to learn German to have employment.
We met another candidate who had requested to take a position in the kitchen, but we discovered he had no experience in the kitchen. We allowed a candidate a place for four weeks in the kitchen because the teams who met the candidate saw he had the will to work. After four weeks we said he had to go to German school and then he can join the team with better language. Surprisingly he said, “No, no school,” and we realised he was illiterate. This did not stop us. We took him on in the kitchen and he learned German well on the job. Now he speaks German fluently and understands everything.
There can also be cultural challenges. Two men from Syria, they said they wanted to go to housekeeping, they were good clever people and worked hard. After three weeks they called me by telephone that they cannot come again. We found out that they had been mocked by the other residents in the refugee house they were living in for being managed by a woman.
ITP: How have you communicated this with your guests, and what has their response been?
MS: I always take the time to show my guests Landgut Stober and find it important to share with them that we employ refugees. I have never had a bad response and some customers are very supportive of this.
ITP: What tips would you offer other hotels who may be looking at employing refugees?
MS: They should look for humans who are open-minded; they should look for people who have the will to work and who are open. To get a member of the team to work with them and their own team, to make sure that they can be integrated and accepted, as a human. If people are not supportive of this idea, we should communicate that bad and good people are on every side.
Whilst there is not a Sustainable Development Goal specific to migrants, responding to the refugee crisis in Europe and elsewhere is in every way linked to how we achieve these global goals, in particular in eradicating poverty and creating decent work opportunities. As Michael highlights, refugees are humans first and foremost and deserve the same rights and opportunities wherever they are. We look forward to seeing more great examples of how hotels offer hospitality and employment to those far from home.