A leading accom body has slated Aotearoa’s visa process, saying it deprives businesses of quality staff.
The New Zealand Hotel Owners Association (NZHOA) says there are “simply not enough people to meet demand” in the sector and argues migrant workers are a vital component of filling the labour gap.
A report in Stuff last week claimed the upcoming peak season is “shaping up to be a nightmare” for businesses struggling to fill jobs.
Over the past three years the number of working holiday visas issued by NZ has dropped by more than 9800 to 55,792, while some backpacker hostels are reporting up to a ten percent drop in visitors aged 18 to 29, according to the report.
Global economic uncertainty has been blamed for the downturn in the youth market, but accom owners say a lack of support from tourism bodies and an unwieldy and lengthy visa process are among the contributing factors.
Backpackers are good employees for the sector but also help drive income by spending in regional areas outside of peak periods and attracting family and friends to holiday in New Zealand.
NZHOA‘s new executive director, Amy Robens, says the nation’s largest export industry not only has an issue around backpacker labour shortages, but a wider issue around attracting migrant workers.
“NZHOA members are experiencing a shortage of backpacker labour available to work in hotels which adds to an already existing labour shortage both in the cities and in some regions,” she said.
“Hotel owners are having to employ working holiday visa holders to fill gaps if they can’t find a New Zealander to do the job, which is often the case, and foreign backpackers have not really been visible this season.
“While backpackers are important, so are long-term migrant employees who we have the ability to train in a sector which offers much opportunity and a sustainable career pathway. Hotel owners see this as an important focus to ensure a sustainable workforce.
“The visa process remains complicated and cumbersome. NZHOA members are continuously helping potential migrant workers navigate the visa process to ensure they’re even submitting the right documentation, and as employers – are sponsoring many visas.”
Robens says hotel owners are also facing mounting costs to meet the labour shortfall, including Immigration New Zealand’s demand for positions to be nationally advertised, and recruitment and training costs “such as onboarding, health and safety training, criminal history checks and on-the-job training”.
The new visa application process, to be phased in by 2021, will see hotel owners stung with even more costs, she says, including for immigrant visas and Work and Income checks.
Chris Buckley is a Queenstown bar and restaurant owner and member of the Hospitality NZ board.
As an employer of some 45 staff over summer for his two premises, he is chronically short of workers and says three-month waits for work visa application processing, along with shorter than usual backpackers sojourns, are exacerbating staff shortages.
“We’re seeing a heck of a lot less of them,” he said of backpackers. “In the past they might stay a year or six months, now they only stay three months.”
Buckley says quality of service suffers without enough workers and that tends to be reflected in negative reviews for Kiwi tourism businesses.
“We like to give international guests a good experience and you’re not going to do that if you don’t have enough staff to do the job,” he said.