Anna Kucinska
02 April 2014

Le Mat hotel chain as a fine example of social franchising - nationally and abroad

The Le Mat voluntary hotel chain provides a quality diversified accommodation offer while integrating persons threatened with social exclusion – with difficult life experiences, disabilities, mental illnesses, and promoting sustainable tourism and dialogue between various public and private actors locally. The hotel chain is a social enterprise – its members are both entrepreneurs and workers with a democratic and transparent governance in which there is involvement and agreement in the budget construction and joint responsibility for its results.
 
The origins of Le Mat can be traced back to the activity of Franco Basaglia in Trieste in the 1980s in favour of the social rehabilitation of the mentally ill. A group of persons with previous experiences of exclusion, drug addiction and mental illness established a cooperative (Il posto delle Fragole), took over an old guesthouse and refurbished it, transforming it into a comfortable hotel with six working partners and good revenues (the Hotel Tritone).
 
The Le Mat association, established at the beginning of the 21th century, was the fruit of collaboration between the Institute for Economic and Social Studies and Research (IRES) of Friuli Venezia Giulia, tourism expert, the Italian Overcoming of Handicaps Federation (FISH) and a group of tourism social entrepreneurs, within the EU Equal Initiative. The Le Mat Association decided to participate in the hotel sector because no one more than people who have experienced exclusion understand the importance of a warm welcome. These people, far more than any others, will be able to contribute to the qualification of the hospitality industry.
 
In 2007 the Le Mat Association, together with a number of cooperatives and other subjects from the field of social responsibility, founded the Le Mat - Agency for Development, Consortium of Social Cooperatives to promote the enterprise both nationally and abroad through social franchising.
 
The Le Mat Consortium arranges a specific franchising contract and provides the franchisees with manuals to improve the quality of the services proposed by hoteliers and to standardise the different accommodation solutions to some degree. There are specific manuals, including a technical manual for the realisation of structures that are accessible by everyone and a manual dedicated to environmental undertakings. The operating manual, personalised according to each situation, is divided into five parts (‘Introduction’, ‘Le Mat hotel’, ‘Le Mat social enterprise’, ‘The economic and financial feasibility plan’, ‘The franchising programme’). The Le Mat network has arranged precise terms of support and consulting for the franchisees, both for new entrants and for operators already in the market. Special emphasis is given to the professional and entrepreneurial training of the staff.
 
The Le Mat Association also developed in the European field, establishing Le Mat Europe in 2008, which is a cooperative of Swedish legislation, together with a consortium of social cooperatives of Goteborg. The purpose of Le Mat Europe is to spread the brand in European and non-European countries, adapting the know-how to the specific situations. In 2008, the operating structure Le Mat Sweden was established in Sweden. To date, it has already set up two B&Bs and is currently working on widening its offerings. Currently Le Mat is working with the Development Initiatives Forum (FIR) (http://www.fir.org.pl/en/) in Bialystok, Poland, to transfer its know-how, brand and franchising system.
 
Based on: Marco Confalonieri, Case Study: An atypicalvoluntary hotel chain: The Le Mat project, Business Administration, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Largo Gemelli 1, Milan, Italy
 
For more information visit: http://www.lemat.it/en

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