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Reopening Queensland tourism operators set to face staff shortages

Reopening Queensland tourism operators set to face staff shortages
September 16, 2021

Queensland’s COVID-hit tourism industry is set to face a new challenge as lockdowns ease - a shortage of workers.

Associate Professor Richard Robinson of the University of Queensland Business School has been investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s tourism workforce and developing a crisis resilience and recovery plan with the support of the Queensland Government.

The UQ Business School researcher conducted 15 consultation workshops with tourism industry operators across five Queensland regions - Southern Queensland, Outback Queensland, Tropical North Queensland, Whitsundays and Gold Coast.

Commenting on what he found, Dr Robinson advised “tourism operators are really struggling to get workers in their regions due to the uncertainty of domestic and international border closures.”

Dr Robinson (pictured below) said Tropical North Queensland operators had suffered the most with a loss of both international tourists and the international labour market, such as working holiday makers and that businesses in marine and Indigenous tourism were most impacted.

He went on to explain “the key concerns that came up in the consultations were mostly around job security, financial hardship, wellbeing and skilled labour shortages.

“We are working on strategies for recovery and resilience, focused on three industry groups who experience the crisis differently - employees, businesses, and stakeholders - to support a staged recovery from COVID-19 impacts and develop workforce resilience.”

Financial supports like JobKeeper improved work opportunities and a strong sense of community helped boost workforce confidence in mid-2020, but it has since declined again in 2021 due to continuous lockdowns and border closures.

The latest tourism figures show a 48.9% drop in visitors to Tropical North Queensland, while the outback boomed with a record winter season from Australian travellers.

Tourism operators and employees rated job security as the biggest impact of the pandemic.

Operations Manager TNQ of the Entrada Travel Group Hans Ullrich said it was “nearly impossible” to keep staff in the current climate, stating “our staff are highly specialised - for example, we employ diving instructors and boat captains.

“If lockdowns end suddenly and visitors return, we will struggle to quickly fill these specialised roles that are critical to ensuring our businesses can operate.”

Despite the surge in visitors, tourism operators reported that wellbeing issues and job performance due to labour shortages and insufficient skillsets were still major concerns.

Lloyd Mills, Chief Executive of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach said although his staff were working long hours with limited days off, they were grateful to have the work.

Mills noted “maintaining staff motivation and morale is challenging as everyone is worn out from the uplift in visitation from April until July, but our strong culture will get everyone through.

“Should next season’s environment replicate 2021, the same issues for the Outback region will be present - not enough staff to support visitation and full business operation.”

Dr Robinson’s research was conducted in partnership with the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) and funded by the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland scheme.

Research released last month from the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) suggested that job losses would see the Tropical North Queensland tourism workforce shrink to half its pre-pandemic size by Christmas.

Click here for more information on Associate Professor Richard Robinson's study on the University of Queensland website.

Click here for more information on QTIC website.

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