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Hotel turns handicap to its advantage

Edith Dürst (at right) and members of her team welcome the world to St Gallen

(swissinfo.ch)

There are many reasons why St Gallen’s Hotel Dom is successful. It offers guests a great location and good price – and the staff a second chance.

The hotel is a pioneering project whose goal it is to employ people with disabilities in order to reintegrate them into society.

A Norwegian guest taking breakfast says he is pleased with his choice of the hotel, where he has been staying during a week-long conference he has been attending in St Gallen.

“The staff are very friendly and the rooms are nice and clean,” he says. “And it’s close to the university where the conference is taking place.”

There is a long pause when he is asked if he has noticed anything unique about the hotel.

“It’s in a really nice area of St Gallen, since it’s very close to everything,” he replies. “That’s what has struck me.”

The Hotel Dom doesn’t keep a secret of its policy of employing people with disabilities, nor does it go out of its way to promote the fact.

Hotel with a difference

“Our guests may notice that the hotel is a little different, but most first-time visitors can’t put their finger on what it is,” explains Edith Dürst, the hotel’s manager.

Located in a quiet lane in the middle of St Gallen’s old town, the six-year-old hotel boasts an annual occupancy rate of more than 60 per cent – above the Swiss average.

In its favour are reasonably priced rooms and the fact that it is only a couple of minutes away from the city’s Abbey Library, which is a Unesco world heritage site.

But many guests come back time after time because of the friendly and efficient service provided by a staff largely made up of people with learning and physical disabilities, as well as psychological problems.

“It’s a success for our staff since they have jobs in a place where they are in contact with other people, and not just employed in a workshop for the handicapped,” says Dürst.

Not dysfunctional

Coached by specially trained personnel, the more than 30 handicapped employees work at the reception, serve breakfast, clean the rooms, do the laundry and run errands. The hotel is anything but dysfunctional.

“I like the job a lot because it’s so varied,” says receptionist Iris Süess.

“No two reservations are alike, nor are the guests. I also like the chance to use my foreign languages,” she says, before taking a telephone booking.

“I love having contact with other people,” adds Roger Baumgartner, who is responsible for the hotel’s breakfast service.

“Training is very important here, because you can’t show someone how to do a job, and expect that they will just do it,” says Dürst.

Patience

“They may forget, so it requires a great amount of patience on our part. Because they have handicaps, they are often slower and therefore need more time to do their job.”

The hotel is owned and operated by “Förderraum”, a non-profit organisation that provides support for handicapped people in St Gallen.

The handicapped employees of the hotel are only paid a small salary since they continue to receive full invalidity insurance benefits.

However, the goal of the hotel project is to provide staff members with the skills needed to compete on the job market.

Last year, three employees were successful in making the leap and no longer need to claim invalidity insurance.

Förderraum is now in the process of completing plans to expand the hotel by adding a restaurant, which will create additional jobs.

“It’s a challenge running the hotel because the focus is as much on the people working here as it is on the services they provide,” says Dürst. “I like the unique combination.”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in St Gallen

Key facts

The Hotel Dom employs and trains more than 30 people with handicaps.
The goal is to help with their reintegration into society.
The hotel also shows paintings by people with handicaps or living on the margins of society, on loan from St Gallen Lagerhaus museum.
Rooms range in price from SFr90 ($71) for a basic single room to SFr240 for a triple.

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