Australia Tourists flock to the Grampians post COVID-19 lockdown, but businesses can't find staff to serve them

01:15  28 november  2020
01:15  28 november  2020 Source:   msn.com

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a tree with a mountain in the background: Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman says the region needs to deliver a positive visitor experience. (Grampians Tourism) © Provided by ABC Health Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman says the region needs to deliver a positive visitor experience. (Grampians Tourism)

Damon Henricksen opened his Grampians restaurant before the COVID-19 pandemic — three months before to be exact — but last week was the busiest it has ever been.

It has made having to close up twice this week all the harder to stomach.

Mr Henricksen is one of several businesses in Halls Gap and the Wimmera without sufficient staff to keep their doors open as often as they would like.

It is not a new issue to the Grampians but one that now threatens the region's recovery from COVID-19 lockdowns and its growth as a destination.

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According to the latest credit card data from the NAB, Melburnians eager to escape the city after the abolition of the 'ring of steel' dividing them from the rest of the state are splashing record amounts of cash in regional Victoria.

Before November, Mr Henricksen had closed his venue, Flame Brothers, for three months of this year due to pandemic restrictions. He said these restrictions and staff shortages made it hard to deliver a consistent, high-quality experience to visitors.

"It puts a cap on growth, that's for sure," he said.

"When I started, my goal for the first 12 months was to be much further ahead than we are now, but we don't have the manpower to do the extra things we want to here."

The restaurant has never had a full contingent of staff in its lifetime and is currently advertising positions for two chefs.

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Tourists can ' t stop here due to Covid - 19 lockdown orders. Michelle Lujan Grisham. All roads into the city have been closed, businesses must close between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. and vehicles can only carry two individuals, according to the governor's order.

"That's where the hardest spaces to fill are in hospitality," Mr Henricksen said.

"Front of house staff are quite easy to train, and there are people looking for casual work in the area. Full-time or casual chef positions are difficult to fill, just finding people who have experience."

Finding accommodation a problem

Just down the road, Will Hudson at Paper Scissors Rock Brew has also shut his doors several times this month, for the same reason.

"In order to not burn (staff) out, we need to look at closing up to two days a week to give them days off and a rest," he said.

"All the hospitality businesses in town, and anyone tourism-related like those looking for cleaners, are in the same boat.

"It seems to be statewide. Down in Melbourne and on the coast we are hearing similar things from friends in those areas.

"The limitations have been easing which means we can fit more people in, but the health and hygiene behind it all is still quite high maintenance, so making sure we have enough people on to do the job efficiently is another challenge."

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Mr Henricksen said he worked with a couple of recruitment companies who dealt with people looking to relocate, and a combination of old and new issues explained the shortfall.

"A lot of people on visas need to do regional contracts as part of their sponsorship process, so quite a few people have applied for that reason," he said.

"But I've had a couple of people look at the area happy to take the job and it's impossible to find anywhere to live."

Mr Henricksen said another issue was that some of the work was not being offered as part of the skilled visa program.

"I know a lot of international baristas that are great at what they do but can't get sponsored for that," he said.

"They are screaming for work and they can't find any."

Visitor numbers and jobs continue to grow

Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman said the shortage was something the organisation was looking to address with a marketing campaign aimed at attracting skilled workers to move to the region to be launched soon.

The campaign is a key recommendation of the Grampians New Resident and Workforce Attraction Strategy and Action Plan, created earlier this year by the tourism body and the Grampians' five council areas.

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Market research conducted as part of the plan found the region lost approximately $828 million of gross regional product a year due to lack of population growth.

Mr Sleeman said the region's tourism businesses had been 'at capacity' since the border between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria opened on November 9.

"Before COVID-19 we were averaging 2.5 million visitors into the region each year, and we are forecasting a 10-year average growth rate of 10 per cent, so effectively the number of tourists to the Grampians in 2030 will be double what it is today," he said.

"The demand is there, and now we need to focus on the supply side and deliver a positive visitor experience. If the experience is not acceptable, people won't come back to the area and they won't tell their friends to visit.

"It's critical we do this well. The big challenge is to encourage and drive growth in the region. The next five years are set to be an exciting time."

There were 670 jobs being advertised in the Wimmera and Western region of Victoria as of October, an increase of 3.4 per cent on 12 months earlier. In Melbourne, the annual change has been a drop of 38 per cent.

Original Tier 3 restrictions not tough enough, Hancock admits .
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usr: 1
This is interesting!