The vision for Hotel Etico emerged in Italy from the dream of a young man with Down Syndrome called Niccolò Vallese. In 2006, Niccolò started an internship at Tacabanda Ristorante - owned and operated by brothers Antonio and Egidio De Benedetto. It was the pair’s first experience dealing with a person who had an intellectual disability and they didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t take long for them to see how Niccolò was flourishing and the remarkable potential he had as a hospitality professional. The De Benedetto brothers suddenly understood the need to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from achieving their full potential. They asked Niccolò one day what he hoped for in the future and he responded;
“My dream is to work in a hotel”.
The De Benedetto brothers then made it their mission to support Niccolò on his professional journey to achieve his dream, and this led to a permanent program of internships for people with an intellectual disability at the Tacabanda Restaurant.
The brothers developed a comprehensive program of on-the-job training focused on building skills, knowledge and experience through observation and adapting to the learning needs of each intern with an intellectual disability. They called this the Download Method. The term Download is an analogy referring to the synthesised learning experience of a person with a cognitive, sensory or physical deficit as an imaginary transfer of information between computer operating systems.
The Tacabanda Restaurant’s internship program eventually caught the attention of local banker, Alex Toselli, who brought with him the experience necessary to transform Niccolò’s dream into a reality. In 2013 the Download Cooperative was established with Alex Toselli at the helm, the De Benedetto brothers and the inspiration behind it all - Niccolò Vallese. The Associazione Albergo Etico Onlus (Hotel Ethical Not-for-Profit Association) was then established, and in 2015 the first Albergo Etico opened in the north Italian town of Asti.
The Albergo Etico training program is based on the Download Method and at the heart of it all is the Accademia dell’Indipendenza (Academy of Independence). Drawing from the notion that a unique symmetry exists with the skills required to work in a hotel and those needed for independent living, the Academy of Independence is centred around a dedicated apartment where hospitality interns stay on rostered workdays. This provides an informal setting for interns to transfer the skills, knowledge and experience they have developed at work to an independent living scenario. This is achieved through a combination of guidance by support workers and peer mentoring, and reinforced through the encouragement of carers at home.
There are now 6 hotels established in Italy and Europe, with 7 more due to open worldwide in the next 12 months. Across the operating hotels, 80 hospitality interns are in training and 184 have graduated with 68% of them moving on to open employment. In the 2018 financial year, Albergo Etico, Asti generated a social return of €3 for each €1 invested, according to analysis conducted last year by Italian research group, ARCO.
Albergo Etico represents a movement that is breaking down the barriers preventing people with disabilities from achieving their full potential. Niccolò Vallese is a symbol of that movement and today he lives independently in his home town of Asti and works at Albergo Etico. He has financial independence, the opportunity to teach and mentor other hospitality interns, and travels the world with Team Etico to share his experience.
Niccolò Vallese’s dream inspired the Etico movement and his fellow Download Cooperative founder, Alex Toselli has transported that vision downunder founding Project Etico Australia Limited - a registered charity with deductable gift recipient (DGR) endorsement. Hotel Etico, the trading name for Project Etico, will follow the success of its European counterparts by adapting the Albergo Etico business model to the Australian context.