Tourism visitor crisis has become a labor crisis with thousands of jobs unfilled

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  • Tourism lost 65,000 workers in the first year of the pandemic and is struggling to replace them
  • Migrants on working holiday visas unlikely to arrive in droves before spring
  • Staff shortages mean slower service and shorter opening hours, and New Zealand’s reputation as a destination could suffer

After months of screaming for the border to be open, tourism businesses facing a labor crisis are crying out for staff.

Thousands of vacancies and higher levels of Omicron-related staff illness have created a big headache for tourism, which lost 65,000 workers in the first year of the pandemic and is now struggling to win back workers made redundant when the border closed.

Many who landed more secure jobs in other sectors are reluctant to return to an industry that was so vulnerable to Covid-19, and now has the added challenge of geopolitical influences such as the war in Ukraine.

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Zak Ainsworth has definitely stopped tourism.

He loved his job as a kayak guide in the Abel Tasman National Park, but after being made redundant he first worked in a supermarket, before taking an apprenticeship as a landscaper with the long-term goal of becoming a firefighter .

“I’m 30, have a baby on the way and a mortgage, so tourism isn’t the best gig for someone in my position.”

Former kayak guide Zak Ainsworth is among tourism workers who lost their jobs when the border closed and left the industry for good.

Provided

Former kayak guide Zak Ainsworth is among tourism workers who lost their jobs when the border closed and left the industry for good.

The Seek and Trade Me websites each advertise more than 2,500 tourism and hospitality jobs, and Seek’s May figures for the sector were up 54% from the same period last year.

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White estimates that accommodation and hospitality establishments alone will need to recruit between 20,000 and 30,000 staff to meet demand during the peak summer season, and warns that our reputation as a destination will suffer if overseas visitors receive poor service.

“If people’s expectations aren’t met, they tell these stories when they get home.”

The Restaurant NZ jobs board showed 1,078 jobs in May in Auckland alone, and chief executive Marisa Bidois said a nationwide survey of 500 members showed most were struggling to recruit and nearly half had temporarily closed due to a lack of staff.

Many companies are relying on returning migrant workers and working holiday visa holders to fill vacancies, but there are concerns that other countries that opened their borders earlier, such as Australia and Canada, may not yearn for this source of labour.

At the Luggate Hotel in Central Otago, co-owner Rowena Bowler gave up on hiring a new chef last year and is putting in 60 hours a week, while her husband Rodney works days at his engineering business in nearby Wanaka and nights behind the bar or in the hotel kitchen.

The couple’s two sons help run the adjoining pub and general store, and Rodney Bowler says they really lack access to migrant labor because New Zealanders don’t want to move to an area where housing is expensive and hard to find.

The owners of the Luggate Hotel, Rodney and Rowena Bowler, are working long hours because they couldn't find a chef.  Their cafe is closed, the pub has reduced lunch service and they are anxiously awaiting the return of migrant workers.

Olivia Caldwell / Stuff

The owners of the Luggate Hotel, Rodney and Rowena Bowler, are working long hours because they couldn’t find a chef. Their cafe is closed, the pub has reduced lunch service and they are anxiously awaiting the return of migrant workers.

Immigration New Zealand has approved 26,779 working holiday visas since mid-March, including 18,000 existing visa holders who were unable to travel when the pandemic hit, and who now have until mid-September to arrive here.

So far, 1,166 working holidaymakers have arrived by air, but the vast majority are not expected until spring, leaving a narrow window for training before overseas tourists arrive in large numbers.

The winter influx of skiers in Queenstown is already putting pressure, and backpacker hostel owner Brett Duncan says three workers, including himself, are tending two 50-bed hostels that would normally require 10 workers at this time of year.

Calls for patience from customers are growing as cafes, restaurants and bars deal with staff illnesses and vacancies.  Some are reducing menu choices and opting for counter service to deal with labor shortages.

Amanda Cropp / Stuff

Calls for patience from customers are growing as cafes, restaurants and bars deal with staff illnesses and vacancies. Some are reducing menu choices and opting for counter service to deal with labor shortages.

Pressure is also high in Auckland where thousands of former managed isolation (MIQ) hotel rooms have flooded the market, and Hotel Council Aotearoa director James Doolan said employers offering up to $30 an hour was still struggling to recruit.

“[In MIQ] they weren’t cleaning the rooms every day…suddenly all of these rooms are occupied, they need to be cleaned every day and they need chefs to cook the breakfasts.

Shanna​ Reeder​, senior hotel organizer at Unite Union, says wages have risen a lot in recent months, with some employers offering $25 for entry-level positions, but pay rates are only part of the puzzle. .

Some hotels don’t give room attendants an expected arrival time, so parents don’t know if they can pick up their kids from school.

“It’s a very basic thing that employers can do to encourage people to apply for these types of roles.”

Tourism and hospitality won a 12-month concession, reducing the minimum wage rate from $27 an hour for essential skills visas to $25 through April next year, and a carrier. word from Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said it would help the sector transition to new immigration settings.

At its peak, more than 6,000 rooms were booked for managed isolation and quarantine, paying welcome money into 33 contracted hotels in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch.

Getty Images

At its peak, more than 6,000 rooms were booked for managed isolation and quarantine, paying welcome money into 33 contracted hotels in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch.

Reeder opposes the concession and says the industry should not be given special treatment to be able to send migrant workers at reduced rates of pay.

“Their pay rates should be the same as a New Zealander doing the exact same job.

“Many industries have suffered from the pandemic and I don’t think tourism and hospitality should be singled out.”

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