Australia’s tourism sector is bouncing back, with jobs in the industry up 13.6 per cent in the December quarter, according to fresh data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
More than 75,000 jobs were created in the sector from October to December last year, in direct contrast to the previous three quarters, which all saw a decline in tourism employment numbers.
The figures are a welcome boost to an industry decimated by the COVID pandemic over the past two years, and they are a significant boost to the Australian economy.
According to Tourism Australia, spending from domestic and international tourism totalled $122 billion per annum prior to the pandemic, contributing more than 3 per cent of Australian GDP in 2019.
Tourists returning in numbers
The increase in employment numbers reflects increased visitor numbers across multiple states, particularly in those jurisdictions that only recently opened state borders.
One such example is Queensland, traditionally an tourism hotspot, which welcomed interstate visitors again from mid-December last year.
“We have definitely seen a significant increase in tourist numbers since the border opened in Queensland in December, and this should only continue, given the international borders have opened to tourists since then.” Mlikotis said.
It is these tourist numbers that are driving increased job opportunities in a range of tourism employers, as the sector scrambles to react to the changing market conditions.
Staff shortages now an issue
However, it’s not all good news for the tourism industry in Queensland.
“The challenge for the industry in North Queensland right now is not the volume of tourism business but securing the staff to service it,” Mlikotis said.
It seems the local job market in Cairns is still being impacted by lower-than-average backpacker and international student numbers, which have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.
These two markets provide a valuable addition to the labour force in regional tourism centres, and the lack of workers available from these traditional sources is leading to certain positions becoming difficult to fill for local businesses.
"We have some restaurants here in Cairns who are closing their doors for one or two nights a week due to lack of available staff,” Mlikotis said.
She said her conversations with other industry groups across the tourism sector indicated this scenario was being replicated elsewhere, with staff shortages starting to bite in several markets.
The opening of international borders in recent months is expected to bring a rise in backpacker numbers, while international students are also starting to return.
However, each state is likely to be competing for scarce labour in the coming months as the tourism industry continues to recover.