The tourism industry is at “crisis” point as it scrambles to claw back the tens of thousands of employees it had to let go – a race against time as Australians prepare to hit the road for summer holidays.
The industry suffered a massive blow because of the coronavirus lockdown, becoming one of the nation’s worst hit in terms of job losses.
Now, as borders are opening up and Australians embrace the holiday season, the staff shortage has become a “national crisis”, Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said.
“We’ve lost over 100,000 people in our sector – the magnitude is huge,” she told The New Daily.
“We lost so many people during the pandemic because there was no assurance to when we would reopen, and people had to find other work.
“It’s not just in Victoria, it is a national problem.”
Because of this, the industry is losing of some of its most experienced staff, she said.
“We’ve lost people who have been with companies for 10 to 15 years. Can we get them back? That remains to be seen,” she said.
“So many people moved on to other sectors to find more security.”
Not only is the industry facing a ‘brain drain’, but in certain parts of the country operators are struggling to fill the casual, short-term positions usually filled by backpackers, she said.
“The industry is reliant on backpackers and international students, particularly in the regional areas. They form a really important part,” Ms Mariani said.
When a line of employees like that disappears, it’s a hard gap to fill, she said.
“As a result, we struggle to attract all of the employees we need domestically because the industry can’t always provide full-time employment.”
Hit and then hit again
There has been immense pressure on state and federal governments to open borders and allow the tourism industry to flourish – in the hope it may help get unemployed Australians back into work and boost the economy.
In 2019, two-thirds of the 79.1 million domestic overnight trips recorded were taken in home states, Tourism Australia figures show.
Day trips alone pumped more than $26 billion into the economy.
First, the industry was ravaged by a horrific bushfire season, and now the pandemic.
From Port Douglas, a central point for tourists visiting the Daintree, to the ski town of Jindabyne in NSW and down to Victoria’s Otway region, tourism businesses have been forced to lay off staff.
There are small signs of revival. Last month it was the third-best industry for jobs growth, according to SEEK data.
NSW Tourism Industry Council executive manager Greg Binskin said the pandemic exposed the seasonal nature of the workforce.
To thrive, Australians need to be shown the pathways to long-running careers in the industry, he said.
“There are always going to be staff shortages when you have peaks and troughs,” Mr Binskin said.
“Hopefully, people see the industry as a career pathway instead of a casual job you do on the way through.”
An injection of year 12 leavers and mature-age Australians looking for casual work could help bolster the workforce, he said.
“We’re about to have a pipeline of school leavers, and I think we’ll have some of those people coming into this space to get work,” he said.
“And the local mature-aged workers who are looking for part-time casual work, there are a number of options.
“It’s been a tough time, but tourism is bouncing back now.”