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Staff shortages could reach crisis point in ACT, business chamber warns

Tourism has rebounded after a disruptive, challenging year, the ACT Government said yesterday. Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt agreed that the past few weeks have been positive for the local visitor economy, but he believes staff shortages are reaching crisis point, and that the government may need to intervene.

The latest figures show that Canberra accommodation is now 73% full, which Mr Catt said was due to sitting weeks in Federal Parliament and the Federal Budget, and leisure travel.

He said Canberra’s visitor economy relies on both tourism and business travel.

“The positive accommodation results for April are great news, but business travel has been slow to return. Many national and multinational corporations are only just returning to the office and cautiously permitting staff to travel and attend events. Getting people back to the office, back to meetings, and back to business events is critical for our visitor economy.”

Regional travel and tourism across Australia had grown since the pandemic. “Canberra is a short flight or drive away from both major capitals and regional centres; it offers unique cultural attractions, great dining and accommodation options, and a growing variety of visitor experiences,” Mr Catt said.

To encourage tourism, the ACT Government has supported more than 100 tourism businesses and invested more than $3 million through the COVID-Safe Tourism Co-Investment Program (funding products and infrastructure) and the Tourism Co-operative Marketing Fund (marketing campaigns that increase awareness of the ACT as a leisure destination).

Mr Catt said he had heard from more and more tourism operators who were doing well or were at least well on the road to recovery. But many small businesses still struggled.

“They are looking to the ACT Government to provide business assistance in addition to the very welcome marketing initiatives.”

The tourism and hospitality sectors faced a new challenge, Mr Catt said: not enough workers.

“In every discussion [the Chamber had] with business, they tell us about the growing shortage of both skilled and unskilled staff. We hear from hotels who can’t run at capacity because they can’t clean rooms, clubs who can’t find chefs, and cafés who can’t find baristas.

“The biggest concern for many is that the skills and labour shortages we’re seeing in the ACT will reach crisis levels as a result of the prolonged international border closure and decreased labour mobility.

“Canberra businesses will be looking to the ACT Government for support in the upcoming Budget.”

An ACT Government spokesperson said that as part of the 2021-22 Budget, the Government was considering ongoing targeted assistance for sectors recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the spokesperson continued:

“As we have nearly reached full employment in the ACT, filling job vacancies will become more difficult, and certain industries will face skills shortages. Businesses will have to adjust to this economic reality. They will have to invest in training and offer more generous employment conditions to attract and retain staff.”

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