New Zealand will be one long tourist queue this summer, if predictions of big staff shortages come to pass.
Many industries are crying out for workers, but crunch time is approaching for tourism and hospitality.
Christmas holidays are coming, and New Zealand is properly open to overseas visitors for the first summer in three years.
But there are concerns that the surge in demand while the industry is so understaffed will result in sub-optimal experiences for visitors, and potentially tarnish the country’s reputation.
Big employers at the airport tried to fill about 3000 vacancies with a recruitment drive in July, but despite 4000 jobseekers turning up, only about 500 positions were taken.
Vacant jobs throughout the airport “ecosystem” included cabin crew, airline check-in, baggage handling, trades, security, hotel staff, chefs and cleaners.
At least 1000 drivers are needed to meet demand in the tour and coach sector, but there are other staff shortages in the sector.
Ben McFadgen, chief executive of the Bus and Coach Association, said diesel mechanics were “as rare as wild haggis”. Also missing were operations staff, front of house staff, cleaners and other positions.
About 40% of tour operators had gone, he said.
New Zealand’s 360 hotels are short 2670 workers if they are to operate at full capacity, the Hotel Council Aotearoa says.
The organisation estimates that the typical 100-room hotel had 7.5 staff vacancies, on average. They had to adapt by temporarily closing restaurants, adjusting room cleaning schedules, stopping room service, and limiting the number of rooms sold on some nights of the week.
The number of people employed in the tourist accommodation sector was 27,318 pre-Covid, but that fell by 54% in the first 12 months after border restrictions began.
Hotels in physically isolated spots with low permanent populations were among the worst affected.
Sickness is compounding problems for tourism and hospo businesses trying to make up lost ground with staffing. Covid cases are picking up and could hit a peak of 11,000 reported casesper day around Christmas.
During previous Covid waves, business owners desperate to fill vacant shifts resorted to washing the dishes and making the beds themselves.
Twenty thousand working holiday visa holders have arrived in New Zealand since the borders opened.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood said close to 6000 people with working holiday visas arrived in November alone.
A further 18,000 people have had their visas approved and could travel to New Zealand in the next few months, bringing the total of approved applications to nearly 40,000.
However, they don’t appear to be making much of a dent yet. Those working holidaymakers have had several years to save up while unable to travel and now they have enough cash to focus on the holiday side of their trip. They also seem happy to hit the big cities first then work their way south.
A further 30,000 workers are needed for New Zealand’s restaurants, cafes and bars this summer, the Restaurant Association says.
Eighty per cent of Restaurant Association members were not fully staffed, 92% had found it difficult to recruit for a mid-senior level position and 65 per cent had found it difficult to recruit for junior level positions, said association chief executive Marisa Bidois.
Employee numbers were up 0.37% this year to 135,000, but it’s the lowest level of growth in more than 10 years, says
While 2022 employee numbers reversed the decline seen in 2021 to reach 135 thousand employees, at 0.37 per cent it was the slowest growth in more than 10 years.
The grand total estimate of workers needed to meet tourism demand this summer.
Thousands of vacancies and rising levels of Omicron-related staff sickness have created a big headache for tourism, which lost 65,000 workers in the first year of the pandemic and is now struggling to win back workers laid off when the border closed.
Many who landed more secure jobs in other sectors were reluctant to return to an industry that was so vulnerable to Covid-19, and now has the added challenge of geopolitical influences such as the war in Ukraine.