Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey finds labour shortage a problem, reopening border a priority

Tourism businesses shed thousands of staff when Covid-19 hit but now face a new problem -not enough workers.

A Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey found that more than half of respondents reduced staff earlier this year but, ahead of the usually busy summer season, 60 per cent of respondents have sought to employ additional staff over the past three months, with 45 per cent saying it has been difficult to find suitable candidates.

TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said the latest survey shows that operators have got over their initial state of shock and are now resigned to working with what business is available, with an eye to the future recovery.

“Respondents are resolutely staying in business in spite of losing their international customers,” he said.

Many had been able to expand what they offered to the domestic market.

”There’s a degree of confidence returning, tempered by the realisation that there are still tough times ahead.”

The survey of 319 respondents was released at a TIA summit today.

Roberts said the responses to questions on staffing suggest that businesses have reached a point where employment levels have stabilised at a new level. Many were now focused on retaining key staff and hiring new people to meet demand.

Getting the staff they need was a considerable challenge.

”The ‘lumpy’ nature of domestic tourism, with demand happening at weekends and school holidays, means many of the roles that need to be filled are part-time and temporary.”

Some respondents commented that New Zealanders were unwilling to take on roles that were not full-time and permanent.

“Immigration settings are also highlighted with visas not being renewed for existing employees and no access to overseas workers.”

Examples of responses to questions on what was impacting business included:

• ”Minimum response to employment advertisements for a range of positions.”

• ”Despite alleged unemployment, we are struggling to recruit for our vacancies – across the board from entry level to senior positions.”

Another says the biggest problem is retaining experienced staff. ”We need them for weekend and school holidays yet they can’t afford to only work for 20 hours a week and we can’t afford to pay them for 40 hours.”

The survey finds that with borders closed the reliance on domestic tourism would remain and there were signs this will sustain a solid level of demand. But it will not replace the international markets.

The lack of demand is the main factor hitting tourism businesses with 91 per cent citing the lack of international demand and 65 per cent citing lumpy domestic demand.

Inability to pay creditors or non-payment by debtors is still a problem although there has been a slight improvement since April. Ability to pay had fallen from 21 per cent to 17 per
cent while outstanding payments from debtors had fallen from 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

The survey found 96 per cent accessed the Government’s wage subsidy and 13 per cent the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Scheme.

The key action sought from the Government was a safe reopening of the borders – 55 per cent would like to see borders open to visitor markets with quarantine restrictions and 48 per cent would like to see borders open as bubbles without restrictions.

New Tourism Minister Stuart Nash gave his first speech to the industry today but was unable to give any timing around when that could happen.

He said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been clear that the country will open up travel bubbles only when it is safe to do so.

The Government had two over-arching priorities: Keeping the country safe from Covid, which relies on strong management of the border, and accelerating the economic recovery to support jobs and businesses, Nash said.

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