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Tropical paradise towns where there’s a Covid hospitality shortage with 8,000 chef vacancies

Idyllic holiday destinations are struggling from a crippling shortage of hospitality workers as the coronavirus pandemic and Australia’s closed borders continue to take a devastating toll, despite offering huge salaries in a desperate attempt to fill roles.

Towns in some of Australia’s much-loved travel hotspots such as Far North Queensland, Uluru and the New South Wales south coast have been flooded with domestic tourists keen to explore the nation while international borders remain off-limits. 

But overwhelmed tourism operators are feeling tremendous strain from the lack of hospitality workers, where resort managers have been forced to multi-task and step in to fulfil roles usually done by baggage handlers, maintenance crew, cleaners and baristas.

About 78 per cent of Australian hotels are experiencing a skilled labour shortage, with more than 8,000 vacancies for chefs alone waiting to be filled, according to the Accommodation Association.

Resorts and restaurants in the beachside village of Palm Cove (pictured) near Cairns are desperate to fill positions – but simply can’t find workers

Domestic tourists have flocked to Far North Queensland, which has hit by a shortage of workers due to closed international borders (pictured, Cairns)

Domestic tourists have flocked to Far North Queensland, which has hit by a shortage of workers due to closed international borders (pictured, Cairns)

In Far North Queensland, domestic tourism has returned to pre-Covid volumes.

But the region doesn’t have the reef guides, ships masters and crew, housekeepers and drivers needed to keep up with high demand in an area which previously heavily relied on overseas backpackers for employment.

There are more than 1,200 tourism and hospitality jobs vacancies between Townsville and Cairns, while in nearby Port Douglas, one local ­business alone has 50 available positions.

Some hotels and restaurants have been forced to temporarily close while others have put customer caps in place so overwhelmed staff can keep up with demand.

Existing staff are forced to multitask, including resort general manager Christian Lachemeier, who runs the Mantra Amphora resort at Palm Cove, an idyllic beachside village north of Cairns. 

‘It’s still the same job. It’s just more intense because you’re pulling in all directions, he told the Australian Weekend Magazine.

Palm Cove (pictured) a beloved spot for exploring the Great Barrier Reef is struggling to attract any staff in face of soaring domestic demand

Palm Cove (pictured) a beloved spot for exploring the Great Barrier Reef is struggling to attract any staff in face of soaring domestic demand

Ayers Rock Resort (pictured) has also struggled to get adequate staff - with 120 jobs waiting to be filled

Ayers Rock Resort (pictured) has also struggled to get adequate staff – with 120 jobs waiting to be filled

Another manager at a nearby resort said their hotel recorded its best April bookings since 2007.

Staff at restaurants in Palm Cove have also been run off their feet and admit the  shortage has been physically and mentally draining.

One restauranteur who hasn’t had a day off in months, has spent $2,000 advertising for positions, many of which still aren’t filled.

They recalled offering the job to an apprentice chef who was on trial, only to find out that he had three other trials and that he would ‘have to think about it’.

Queensland isn’t the only state to be hit by the staff shortage as the tourism sector tries to recover from the pandemic.

In Cairns, hotels are struggling to keep up with domestic demand thanks to a lack of seasonal workers from overseas

In Cairns, hotels are struggling to keep up with domestic demand thanks to a lack of seasonal workers from overseas

David Allen, the publican at the Cobargo Hotel Motel (pictured) said the town has seen roaring demand in recent months - but is struggling to keep up

David Allen, the publican at the Cobargo Hotel Motel (pictured) said the town has seen roaring demand in recent months – but is struggling to keep up

On the NSW South coast, Cobargo Hotel Motel publican David Allen says he and his staff are being slammed by demand, less than 18 months after a wild bushfire devastated the small town.  

The numbers of meals doubled from 600 a week to 1,200 during the pandemic which has left Mr Allen looking for a head chef for the last four months.

Not even adding an extra $20,000 for a job that usually pays $60,000 a year has been enough incentive.

HOW YOU CAN SCORE A JOB IN A TROPICAL PARADISE

For Australian citizens and permanent residents, it could be as easy as applying for any of the listed jobs in these holiday towns and moving there.

For those without full working rights, it’s a little more complicated.

Non-citizens already in Australia can apply for the special Covid-19 Pandemic Event visa.

Details are available here.

The visa is a special visa set up during the pandemic to allow overseas workers to remain in Australia if they work for critical industries.

This includes: 

agriculture

food processing

health care

aged care

disability care

child care or

tourism and hospitality

Mr Allen is worried about the effect the busy months ahead will have on his business and staff. 

‘I can just see this Christmas is going to be absolutely horrendous,’ he said.

‘They’ll come down here and they can’t get bookings and the quality of service won’t be there. Yes, you might make some extra money. But at what cost? How long can you keep doing that?’ 

The Burke and Wills Roadhouse in the Outback of far-north Queensland owners admitted they were getting 'burnt out' as they struggled with a lack of employees

The Burke and Wills Roadhouse in the Outback of far-north Queensland owners admitted they were getting ‘burnt out’ as they struggled with a lack of employees

Richard Shannon at Queensland's peak horticulture body Growcom said that Covid highlighted Australia's over-reliance on overseas workers

Richard Shannon at Queensland’s peak horticulture body Growcom said that Covid highlighted Australia’s over-reliance on overseas workers

Meanwhile in central Australia near national icon Uluru, 120 jobs are waiting to be filled at Ayers Rock Resort which is run by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia boss Matt Cameron-Smith. 

He said international order closures and the loss of overseas labour are responsible for the pressures now being met by tourism operators.

‘The whole industry pressed go at the same time. We all need the same people at the same time and there are not enough people in Australia,’ he said.

Around 660km north of Uluru, the Ti Tree Roadhouse is an essential pit stop for most travellers en route to Darwin via the along the Stuart Highway.

Usually reliant on backpackers for casual work, the roadhouse is often manned by a single employee and is forced to close 90 minutes early each night due to staff shortages. 

Cobargo (pictured) was ravaged by bushfires in 2019/20 but has seen a return to huge tourist levels - but there's very little staff on hand to help

Cobargo (pictured) was ravaged by bushfires in 2019/20 but has seen a return to huge tourist levels – but there’s very little staff on hand to help

The Burke and Wills Roadhouse has struggled to find employees as they wrote a number of similar businesses were forced to close their doors

The Burke and Wills Roadhouse has struggled to find employees as they wrote a number of similar businesses were forced to close their doors

Elsewhere, The Burke and Wills Roadhouse in Four Ways, an outback town 1,500km from Brisbane in far-north Queensland, is also struggling to find staff with owners saying they’re close to being ‘burnt out’ after a boom in business.

Owners of the roadhouse are struggling to ‘keep their heads above water’ due to the limited workforce and were forced to b eg for workers on Facebook.

‘No one replies to our job ads, some have committed to coming but then pull out last minute, others don’t bother to answer our messages,’ they wrote.

‘Every remote town/roadhouse/pub in all the surrounding towns are all in the same situation; no-one can find employees.’

Cobargo (pictured) suffered bad bushfires in 2019/20 but has since recovered and is booming with domestic tourists - but struggling to find the staff

Cobargo (pictured) suffered bad bushfires in 2019/20 but has since recovered and is booming with domestic tourists – but struggling to find the staff

The lack of seasonal and international travellers has left a gaping hole in the workforce, as Richard Shannon at Queensland’s peak horticulture body Growcom explained. 

‘We already knew it before COVID, but it certainly highlighted our over-reliance of backpackers,’ he said. 

‘We need to re-balance our workforce toward a more willing, more productive, more secure workforce.’ 

A Federal Government initiative is offering $6,000 to workers if they relocate to a regional area, but within its first few months only 148 people took up the offer. 

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