It isn’t often that a hotel chain comes to the tourism market with a unique product. Words such as “sustainable tourism” are bandied about liberally, but to provide employment and a service that is not found in any other company is unusual.
José Ángel Preciados is chief executive of the Ilunion group, a Spanish hotel chain at the centre of an unusual social project. The Ilunion group was founded in 2014 to promote social integration of people with disabilities.
Ilunion materialises the social initiative of the Once Foundation, which has provided support for the blind for decades within Spain. The ethos of the business has been to create a novel and innovative model, maintaining the balance between economic and social values.
“We are the only 100 per cent accessible and sustainable hotel chain,” Preciados says. “We are also the only chain that is 100 per cent socially committed, promoting integration through employment and making it possible for people with disabilities to join the workforce.”
With 25 hotels in 12 destinations, Preciados’s business model is to build a world based on equality, solidarity and kindness, where the main focus is on people and their potential.
The three-, four- and five-star hotels – targeting urban and holiday markets – are situated in the main Spanish cities across 12 provinces. Between them, they have more than 3,700 beds and more than 8,000sq m of rooms for meetings and events.
What really sets them apart is that 40 per cent of the hotels' employees have some type of disability. In addition, four of the hotels – Ilunion Suites Madrid, Ilunion Barcelona, Ilunion Valencia 3 and Ilunion Valencia 4 – are Special Employment Centres – workplaces where at least 70 per cent of the staff are people with disabilities.
The main purpose is to create and guarantee paid employment for people with disabilities under the kind of conditions that might be found in other companies. It offers opportunities to those that encounter the most problems in finding a job, including people with intellectual disability, mental illness, visual and audio impairment and physical disabilities.
A key element of the Ilunion vision is “unnoticed accessibility”, says Preciados. “We are talking rooms with enough turning space, bathrooms with grab bars, with accessible design and height, continuous floor shower stalls or roll-in shower, with a shower chair. This is the least that is expected.”
Telephones in its rooms are equipped with several adaptations and with wireless emergency buttons. There is information in Braille on the door locks and on the complimentary items. Lifts feature a voice and display system and there is a magnetic loop installed in the reception area to improve the sound for those who are hard of hearing. Rooms also feature portable vibrating fire alarms and alarm clocks and a light doorbell.
In public areas, there are accessible counters, walking-stick holders, wheelchairs and tables for preferential use by people with reduced mobility in restaurants and cafeterias as well as emergency buttons in common bathrooms, accessible parking, a lift-chair in the pools and a JAWS voice programme in internet corners – a computer screen reader programme for Microsoft Windows. The services directory and cafeteria menu are available in Braille.
All employees receive specific training on accessibility, as well as work protocols they must bear in mind when receiving people with disabilities. Sensitivity by employees is key to the success of the project.
Ilunion’s activity is grouped into five divisions, with more than 50 business lines and a turnover of €730 million.
Apart from being the leader in universal accessibility, the group is a pioneer in labour market inclusion for disabled people. It’s the second cornerstone on which the group’s social sustainability is based.
In the social area, Ilunion provides direct employment to 31,000 workers, of which about one-third have some type of disability. In addition, through its participation in social companies, it helps to sustain a further 6,400 jobs, of which 80 per cent are occupied by disabled people.
As with any company, Ilunion measures success in part by its ability to grow, opening new hotels. A four-year strategic plan envisages a further nine units over the next three years as a minimum target.
In a 2015 rebranding of the company, Preciados involved Ilunion Hotels’ employees – both as participants in the campaign itself and via a two-way workforce-wide dialogue – to show how vital a part of the project they are.
“In short, if you are able to design [while] thinking of those who have it harder, you will be helping to create a better world for all,” he says.