Port Douglas tourism businesses desperate for staff


Karlie Brady


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Hi Tide at the Peninsula Boutique Hotel in Port Douglas is just one of the many local businesses currently looking for more workers. Image: Karlie Brady.
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As visitor numbers picked up over the holiday period, a number of local businesses were left scrambling for workers with many still experiencing significant staffing shortages.

Many businesses in the local tourism, hospitality, and agricultural sectors traditionally rely on seasonal workers holding working holidaymaker visas to supplement the permanent workforce during high visitation periods.

However, COVID-19 border restrictions have left a shortage of backpackers across the country and Australian’s looking for work are being urged to fill in the gaps.

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Manager of Peninsula Boutique Hotel and Hi-Tide restaurant, Heather English, said she had a number of vacant positions across the business.

“We haven’t been able to run the restaurant at full capacity and we have had to shut some nights a week and just serve in-house-guests only because we haven’t had enough staff,” she said.

“Our housekeeping team would usually have eight or nine people and now we have four.

“Our reception staff have been cleaning rooms trying to catch up.

“And the restaurant is down about six staff members compared to what we would usually have over this period.”

The shortage of staff comes after data shows that as of November 2020, 1,275 people or 15.8 per cent of the population in the Douglas Shire were on JobSeeker or Youth allowance, in comparison from 638 people at the same time the previous year.

“We have advertised everywhere and hardly had any applications,” Ms English said.

She added some of the staff they do currently have will soon also have to leave as their working visas expire.

“I had one last week have to return home. She tried to apply for an extension, and we wrote a supporting letter saying we needed her, but she was refused and was not allowed to stay.

“I am really worried about what is going to happen in June and July. Our bookings are looking really strong but a lot of our workers on visas are having to leave in the next month, so I’m really worried about how we are going to get staff.”

Ms English said she is not alone with every other business she has spoken to reporting the same issues.

She said lately they have been bombarded with phone calls from people trying to make a reservation at a restaurant, saying they had not been able to get a table anywhere.

“A lot of restaurants have probably done what we have done and have had to cut back their capacity too due to lack of staff.”

Echoed across town

It’s a problem echoed by many businesses across the Douglas Shire including the Court House and Central Hotels.

Charles Warren, General Manager for Hilrok Hotel Group which owns the Court House and Central Hotels said they had been finding it extremely difficult to fill staff positions.

“I’ve been here for seven years and it’s the worst I’ve seen it in being able to find experienced staff,” he said.

“We utilise a lot of casual staff, especially over the busy holiday periods.

“A lot of those on working holiday visas have left town and no new ones have come back into town.

“So, there are jobs available, but it is difficult to get experienced people to fill them.”

This lack of available staff has meant they too have had to cut back some of their operations.

“We haven’t been able to open upstairs at the Court House this holiday period because we don’t have enough staff, so it has restricted the total number of people we have been able to have in the hotel,” he said.

Niramaya Villas and Spa are also looking for more staff after experiencing similar problems.

Guest services agent, Ally Brown, said they have had to share team members across several departments.

“During the Christmas period we were down three team members in the restaurant, one in reception and three in housekeeping, compared to how many staff we had for the same period last year,” she said.

“Being short staffed in our restaurant team meant that we were not able to open for dinner over the Christmas period.

“The plan for next year to attract staff is to offer staff accommodation, we will also be pivoting towards staff who can work in multiple departments across the resort, while also keeping our positions secured for certain departments,” Ms Brown said.

Staff wanted

Tourism Port Douglas Daintree CEO, Tara Bennett, said the significant reduction in working holiday maker visa holders in Australia is putting pressure on the tourism and agriculture sectors.

“This issue has been raised by TPDD with all levels of government for many months including advocating government departments and the education sector to attract workers,” she said.

“There is an incentive scheme through the Queensland Government to attract tourism and agriculture workers north as well as a student-focused program launched by Study Cairns in December targeting the many international students stranded in Australia.

“This is a multi-layered issue which will require a range of initiatives to tackle. TPDDs Board of Directors discussed this in-depth last week and we will continue to advocate on behalf of our industry and work with partners on regional solutions,” she said.

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