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Giving Good Service New Meaning

As he recalls this year’s graduation ceremony for trainees of the hotel he co-founded in the Blue Mountains in 2020, Andrea Comastri is emotional.


“The feelings in the room were just indescribable,” says Comastri, chief executive of Hotel Etico. “There was pride and joy, tears and laughter; it was exceptional.”


What made it so special is that the grand 15-room hotel has a very different employment model to most, providing a luxury hospitality experience for guests, while running an immersive hospitality training and employment program for people living with disability.


“Our big difference is that we match our hospitality training with an independent living program – our trainees live and work on-site and are completely immersed in every part of the business,” Comastri explains. “They’re front and centre of the hotel, from reception, to housekeeping, to the kitchen, on the floor, in the bar, everywhere – not just tucked away in little jobs here and there – and that creates this magical recipe for amazing results.”


The hotel’s two-year training program offers positions, with full award wages, to young people with an intellectual, neurodevelopmental or physical disability. After the first year, graduates are helped to find ongoing jobs with sector partners – such as Fairmont Resort, Sofitel, Fullerton and Mercure – and are supported in these new careers by the Hotel Etico team for at least another year.


Westpac Foundation was an early supporter and, beyond the funding, Comastri says the in-kind support provided has contributed to its success. He calls out the Board Observer Program in particular, where senior professionals from Westpac and MinterEllison have been matched based on their skills to join Hotel Etico’s board meetings.


“We’ve had an intense level of support through our connection with the foundation, through promotion of the hotel, teams coming to hold team building weekends with us, and we’ve had three observers on our board who have made an amazing contribution,” he says.


The observers brought skills that the Hotel Etico board had been seeking, such as culture and HR, and risk management. “Although they’re not legally on the board, we treat them like a full-fledged board member,” Comastri says. “They participate in the board discussions and their contribution, expertise and enthusiasm are just incredible. It’s a great program and the contribution is deep.”


Given the success of the hotel’s training model, Comastri has plans to replicate it in every Australian state and territory. “By expanding, it allows us to knock down more barriers, because when people come to the hotel and interact with our trainees their perceptions are transformed about what disability employment means and doesn’t mean.”


Comatri was also recently awarded a Westpac Social Change Fellowship, valued up to $50,000, to help him grow, develop as a leader, and scale his impact.


Read our 2023 Impact Report (PDF 7MB) to find out more about our Westpac Foundation partners, like Hotel Etico who are making a difference in their local communities and how we are building a better tomorrow, together.