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The new challenge facing the COVID-hit tourism industry

James Mitchell
17 September 2021 2 minute readShare

Queensland’s COVID-damaged tourism industry is facing another hurdle as operators struggle to find workers.

Associate Professor Richard Robinson is investigating the impact of COVID-19 on Queensland’s tourism workforce and developing a crisis resilience and recovery plan with the support of the state government.

“Tourism operators are really struggling to get workers in their regions due to the uncertainty of domestic and international border closures,” Dr Robinson said.

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 the Gold Coast.

Dr Robinson 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.

Businesses in marine and Indigenous tourism were most impacted.

“The key concerns that came up in the consultations were mostly around job security, financial hardship, wellbeing and skilled labour shortages,” he said.

“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.

“Our staff are highly specialised — for example, we employ diving instructors and boat captains,” he said.

“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 skill sets were still major concerns.

Lloyd Mills, the CEO 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.

“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,” Mr Mills said.

“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 and funded by the Queensland government’s Advance Queensland scheme.

The new challenge facing the COVID-hit tourism industry
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James Mitchell

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