Australians keen to make the most of cheap flights and tick the Red Center off their bucket list arrive for the holidays to find hotel rooms closed and not enough workers available to serve them.
Thousands of tourists flock to Alice Springs and Uluru on the federal government’s half-price $ 1.2 billion airfare package.
But as growing demand is good news for businesses hit by a pandemic, labor shortages are starting to bite, with a Hospitality NT survey revealing there are more than 7,000 vacant hospitality jobs and vacancies in the hospitality industry. tourism across the territory.
It comes as Australians rush to buy half-price government plane tickets, more than 75% of the 800,000 one-way flights on offer sell out within one month of the program opening, official data showed on Sunday.
Airlines say many tourists book well in advance, setting the stage for a worsening labor shortage as June, the peak time for Alice Springs, approaches as temperatures fall in winter.
The government has boasted that every dollar spent on one of its taxpayer-funded air fares will result in $ 10 spending at the destination, but without sufficient staff much of that money will be wasted.
No one to clean hotel rooms
About 50 miles east of Alice Springs at the Ross River Resort, which will host over 2,000 people for the Wide Open Space music festival this weekend, Lee Donald is feeling the pressure.
Ms Donald says she would typically have four seasonal workers in addition to the four permanent workers who currently run the operation.
The resort has had no luck finding new staff. Posting on the trekking job boards on Facebook, Ms Donald says she has seen advertisements for places “all along the Queensland coast and the Gulf of Carpentaria” looking for staff.
“This year everyone needs to advertise, and they advertise every week,” she said.
At Ayers Rock Resort, Central Australia’s largest tourism operation, only three of five hotels are open after a $ 50 million renovation project that began in 2020 when the resort was closed due to COVID-19.
Ayers Rock Resort CEO Matthew Cameron-Smith said last week the resort is looking for an additional 150 employees, and a message about the resort’s call waiting feature suggests travelers reconsider booking trips to Uluru until July 15.
Hospitality NT chief executive Alex Bruce said the shortage could cost NT $ 150 million in revenue and wages.
Mr Bruce said the situation was worse in rural and remote areas, “and it manifested itself during the Easter season in Alice Springs” where a manager of one of the largest hotels in town was working with him. an “unsustainable” workload for staff.
Another hotel manager was forced to close the rooms because they did not have enough housekeeping staff to clean them and make the beds on time for fresh customers.
They say they know, through private conversations, that “other hotels are closing rooms” whether they are willing to admit it or not.
‘It’s not just the NT’
Mr Bruce said that “from Tasmania to the tip of Cape York everyone is now suffering from a labor shortage in the hospitality industry”.
International border closures, which have prompted the government to unveil additional support for regions dependent on tourism, have compounded the problem as the hospitality industry typically relies on working holidaymakers.
There are now less than 50,000 such visa holders across Australia after the number fell to more than 140,000 early last year.
Ronald Sterry, owner of Ronnie’s Bush House, said at this time of year that he typically turns down “eight people a day” in search of long-term accommodation in one of the 22 bedrooms. his hostel.
These backpackers usually stayed while they worked in hotels, bars and restaurants in Alice Springs.
Governments step in to help, but it’s not enough
About 90 percent of 110 companies that took part in a Hospitality NT survey said they believed a financial incentive for government workers would help address staff shortages.
Last Friday, the Government of the Northwest Territories committed $ 2 million for a “critical worker support program.”
The program aims to provide training to potential local workers and provide $ 1,500 per interstate worker to companies to help pay for advertising and transportation.
But it is limited to 1,000 positions across the territory.
Mr Bruce said if the industry “could fill 1,000 of these next month, that would be a step.”
However, he said that for the industry to fully rebound, international workers will be needed.
“We have to crack the egg. We have to get them [international] flights and operational processes, ”said Bruce.
He said there could be hope for Central Australian businesses at the Todd facility in Alice Springs, which has an $ 18.4 million contract until November 2021.
“I think you’ll actually see that the first batch of flights we can bring in with workers will be down for companies in Central Australia and Central Australia,” Bruce said.
Meanwhile, the federal government has signaled the opening of limited travel arrangements for some overseas workers to alleviate skills shortages ahead of the opening of the wider international border.
However, much will depend on the progress of vaccine deployment in Australia, which is currently months behind its original schedule.