WA hospitality venues close during peak tourist season due to severe staff shortages

February 4th, 2021 | | Tourism

With international travel off the menu, West Australians have flooded regional destinations like never before, but severe staff shortages mean many hospitality venues have been unable to fully capitalise on the influx.

Key points:

  • Hospitality venues are reducing opening hours due to staff shortages
  • The industry usually relies heavily on international travellers at this time of year
  • Despite international border closures, demand from WA tourists is higher than last year

When COVID-19 restrictions hit, there were concerns that interstate and international border closures would slow tourism during the peak summer holidays.

However, pubs, cafes and restaurants across the state have fared well and say this season has been busier than 2019-20 with local tourists alone.

But like many industries that rely on overseas travellers on working visas, they have not been immune to the struggle, with many having to reduce their opening hours.

Double-edged sword

Rob Gough and his wife Karen have owned Settlers Tavern in Margaret River for almost 20 years but, for the first time, they have had to close for lunch several days a week.

“We don’t have enough staff to stay open as long as we normally would,” Mr Gough said.

“It is really hard to stand at the front door on days that we’re closed for lunch, there’s nothing worse than turning customers away.

“I’ve talked to a lot of operators and many of them are in the same boat, we have business levels that are up 15 per cent and staff levels that are 25 per cent down.”

One women putting chocolate dust on a coffee and a second women next to her behind a coffee machine making coffees in a cafe
Cafe owner Kate Marwick says Albany has had a record-breaking summer with tourist numbers this year.(ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)

Further south, Kate Marwick runs the popular Emu Point Cafe in Albany.

Last month, Ms Marwick had to reduce the number of days she opened to give her limited staff a break.

“There are so many visitors but we don’t have enough staff to provide the services,” she said.

No relief in sight

By the end of December, Ms Marwick was able to hire just enough staff to open the cafe seven days a week during Christmas.

However, she expects to go back to five days a week again in February when she loses the bulk of her staff to university commitments.

“Fingers crossed we don’t have to go back to five days but that’s how it stands at the moment,” she said.

“It’s a strange time and quite hard, we’d normally have probably 20 to 30 applicants for a job but at the moment we’re down to about 10.”

After Australia Day, venues expect business to drop off but this year some say it will remain steady.

“It will drop off a bit but because the borders are still closed we expect a lot of people will be travelling to the South West and to other regional areas,” Mr Gough said.

“As long as there’s no international travel, we expect for the medium to long term to have staff shortages.”

A man standing at a bar table with his hand on his hip, in front of rows of empty tables inside a bar.
Rob Gough says during the peak season last year he had up to 90 staff, this year he has under 70.(ABC South West: Zoe Keenan)

Accommodation woes

Apart from missing international workers, Mr Gough said the lack of accommodation was also a major barrier to getting staff in the South West region.

According to recent CoreLogic data, rental vacancy rates in the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River have dropped from 2.8 per cent to 0.2 per cent.

“We generally have more people leaving the area at this time of the year than we have international travellers coming in,” Mr Gough said.

“Due to the fact that the borders have closed this year there’s actually an increase in visitation … that means there is a lack of accommodation because all of the short-term accommodation is jam-packed.”

Foreign workers won’t fill gap

A close up head shot of a man in a suit.
Bradley Woods says the best short-term option is to encourage West Australians to travel and work in different areas.(ABC Perth: Rick Rifici)

The industry body has asked the Commonwealth to consider extending an international workers scheme that has delivered hundreds of Vanuatu workers to help ease shortages in the agriculture sector.

But even then, Australian Hotels Association WA CEO Bradley Woods said, it would not be enough.

“It’s not going to be sufficient enough for us across the state to be able to populate all of the hospitality and hotel businesses that are short of staff,” Mr Woods said.

“It’s a factor of when the Commonwealth feels appropriate to open up our borders again for international travel.

“Until such time I think what we need to do is to encourage as many West Australians who are in a position to travel, to get out and about and work in different places.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow