Insight – Unique solutions to boost the visitor economy workforce

30 June 2022

The workforce shortages affecting the Australian economy are proving especially difficult for the visitor economy, especially given demand for travel and tourism experiences is increasing.

The pandemic’s impact on travel and tourism employment

The lockdowns and border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic meant many travel-related jobs evaporated. Migrant workers, an important supplement to this workforce, were also locked out due to border closures.

Job vacancies in some sub-sectors are in such demand they are simply not being filled. The following tourism-related occupations saw a large increase in job vacancies from pre-pandemic (March 2019) to three years later (March 2022):

  • Waiters – vacancies up by 203%
  • Bar attendants and baristas – vacancies up by 138%
  • Chefs – vacancies up by 64%.

(Source: National Skills Commission: Internet Vacancy Index, 2022)

Growing the visitor economy workforce

Austrade’s THRIVE 2030 Strategy for visitor economy recovery prioritises growing a secure and resilient workforce. Expanding the workforce is achievable in several ways, including:

  • recruiting from under-represented demographics
  • reviewing visa settings
  • supporting the visitor economy to be a career of choice.

Technology and collaboration should also help overcome structural workforce issues.

Recruiting from under-represented demographics

THRIVE 2030 identifies demographic segments under-represented in the workforce including women and older people.

Women are under-represented in the Australian workforce. The participation rate is 62.1% for women versus 70.4% for men as of February 2021 (Source: Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Gender equality workplace statistics at a glance, February 2022). According to the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), flexibility promotes participation. This is partly because women are more likely to have unpaid care responsibilities.

The workforce participation rate of older Australians (aged 65 and over) has increased from 6.1% in 2001 to 15% in 2021 (Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Older Australians, accessed 27 June 2022). New research shows 20% of Australian pensioners would consider paid work after retirement (Source: National Seniors Australia, New research finds why pensioners want to work, media release, 13 April 2022). Welcoming retirees back to work in visitor economy businesses could provide a solution.  

Prominent businesses are recognising and capitalising on these opportunities:

  • Airbnb launched a “Live and Work Anywhere” campaign to attract and keep staff. They are also partnering with destinations to help attract long-stay workers
  • Bunnings welcomes older workers, with more than 30% of their workforce over 50 years old (Source: Australian Financial Review, How golden oldies are boosting the workforce, 2 August 2019).

Community collaboration combats accommodation shortage

Australia has very low vacancy rates for rental properties, with the national rate at 1% (Source: Domain Research House, Vacancy rates: May 2022, 1 June 2022). For popular tourism destinations, seasonal workers cannot always find a place to stay.

Tourism hotspots Lorne in Victoria and Port Douglas in Queensland have asked the local community to help solve this issue. The “Adopt a Worker” campaign asks locals to rent out a spare room or a granny flat so businesses can operate during peak season.

Tourism Port Douglas Daintree is pleased with the results so far.

‘We’ve had 9 register rooms matched with tourism business staff. At the same time, the organic advertising of rooms on various community pages increased 100% in the week after campaign launch. We are delighted with the response to date from the community, businesses and other regions experiencing the same housing constraints,’ it said.

THRIVE 2030 Workforce and Skills Working Group  

Austrade’s THRIVE 2030 Workforce and Skills Working Group welcomes new ideas. Addressing workforce challenges is a priority for THRIVE 2030. This group will support Austrade to attract, train and retain a world-class visitor economy workforce.

The group will provide advice from industry and government to:

  • increase workforce participation
  • improve workforce capability
  • champion the visitor economy as a career of choice
  • inform the long-term visitor economy workforce strategy.

Learn more about the Workforce and Skills Working Group and read the summary from its recent inaugural meeting.

Learn about industry-led, government enabled strategy to support the visitor economy build back better, at THRIVE 2030 Strategy - Austrade.