Hoteliers across the ACT are struggling to meet winter demand as the sector is experiencing a downturn in labour workforce due to Covid uncertainty and fears, industry leaders have said.
It comes after data by the global STR group showed that the occupancy rate in Canberra's commercial accommodation was 73.2 per cent in April, above the national rate of 60.7 per cent.
A 2020 industry outlook report by the Department of Employment stated that the accommodation and food services sector declined by 105,400 workers, or 11.2 per cent, from February to November last year.
Australian Hotels Association ACT's general manager Anthony Brierley said that the issue would be compounded with the snow season starting and during this long weekend.
Mr Brierley said that while the demand was a "really good result", the labour force shortage was "the biggest issue facing the accommodation industry at the moment".
"It's an immediate challenge and requires an urgent short-term solution," Mr Brierley said.
"The availability of enough labour simply to be able to clean rooms is a handbrake and what I mean by that is in the absence of enough labour, you can't sell all the rooms in your hotel."
Mr Brierley said a main cause was that the high level of uncertainty surrounding Covid restrictions and lockdowns and their implications on the industry meant workers had left.
"They're worried our industry would be shut down again," he said.
"They've sought more secure employment elsewhere. It's really hard to get those people back," he said.
"We also don't have the same pool of international students, backpackers, skilled workers in our industry.
"At the moment, the population simply just doesn't exist. We can't materialise that population, they just do not exist."
With Jetstar announcing that it would fly between Canberra and Brisbane from September, Mr Brierley said finding solutions to meet demand was a good problem to have.
"This year's problems are better than 2020's," he said.
"We all really wish the problems didn't exist, but if you took us back to 12 months ago and told us our problem is going to be not having enough staff then we take this problem over the other ones."
If you took us back to 12 months ago and told us our problem is going to be not having enough staff then we take this problem over the other ones.Anthony Brierley
Canberra man Long Dang, who moved from Perth 21 years ago, said he was searching for accommodation for a friend for this weekend and was "surprised at the lack of accommodation all round".
"I usually have friends and family come to visit on almost a monthly basis pre-Covid," Mr Dang said.
"For the weekend it's usually easy to find a hotel or Airbnb for around $150 to $350 for three nights.
"It was only this weekend I noticed most accommodation was booked out and most hotels charging $800 to $1200 for the weekend. Only very expensive rooms left."
Data by the employment department in 2020 shows that the accommodation and food services sector is set to rebound strongly, with the current 832,000 workers to grow to about 972,000, or 17 per cent, by November 2025 - the second largest behind healthcare and social services.
"It is anticipated that this rebound will predominantly be due to strong growth in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (up by 114,100 or 19.6 per cent) and accommodation (up by 23,800 or 30.9 per cent), offsetting the losses experienced by these sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic," the department stated.
Increased domestic tourism and easing of restrictions on international arrivals are expected to drive the strong growth.
Dr Naomi Dale, chief executive of Canberra Region Tourism Council, said that based on discussions with stakeholders, accommodation providers with occupancy rates at only 60-70 per cent did not want to open up further "simply because they're struggling to find staff".
Dr Dale also said it was due to workers leaving due to Covid uncertainty and the lack of international workers.
She said solutions included working towards the safe return of international visitors, including students, and the promotion of the sector as a career path rather than it being a stopgap for another pathway.
"We've already seen some changes with regards to the students that are already here being allowed to work more hours than their visa restrictions," Dr Dale said.
"Austrade is also calling for submissions for its 'Reimagining the Visitor Economy' initiative to figure out what the industry, including accommodation, needs."
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