Australia rolls out the carpet for working holidaymakers

  • Working holidaymakers create the virtuous cycle of earning and spending within the country
  • Government and hospitality companies are rolling out programmes to entice this segment of travellers
  • Competition from other destinations, visa process limitations are obstacles for working holidaymakers

Working holidaymakers were one of the first international visitor markets to return to Australia earlier this year, contributing to tourism recovery and providing a critical solution to the country’s labour crunch.

At the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) 2022 in May, Tourism Australia’s managing director Phillipa Harrison indicated that working holidaymakers are “incredibly important” to Australia.

Working holidaymakers in Australia contribute to tourism recovery and provide a solution to labour shortage

“We opened to working holidaymakers in November last year and they started coming back straightaway. This is a crucial sector for us because these individuals come here to work and support our tourism industries, and spend the money they earn here.”

According to Tourism Australia, 308,400 working holidaymakers arrived in 2019, filling about 250,000 jobs in the agriculture, tourism, and hospitality sectors, and generated about A$3.2 billion (US$2.3 billion) for the economy. Visas are available for those aged 18 to 30 (35 for some countries) and are valid for a year, although there are opportunities to extend it.

Working holidaymakers also spend more, disperse more widely and stay longer than any other international visitor. On average, they spend A$10,400 per trip and stay 149 nights.

Luring them back
The Australian government has pushed out several initiatives to help address critical workforce shortages caused by the pandemic.

On January 31, 2022, Tourism Australia rolled out the Work and Play the Aussie Way campaign to incentivise fully-vaccinated young people – based in the UK, Europe, Japan, and South Korea – to work and holiday in Australia.

Other rules have also been loosened, noted Nicole Downs, group director of people and performance at Ovolo Group.

She elaborated: “The government has relaxed some visa requirements, such as allowing working holidaymakers to work for one employer for up to 12 months, up from six months. This is aimed at encouraging holidaymakers to take jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry.”

Welcome To Travel, co-founder Adam Ogle, told TTG Asia that the government has also removed the A$495 visa application charge for working holidaymakers who were previously granted a visa but were unable to travel to Australia during the pandemic. This was effective January to April.

Melbourne-based Welcome To Travel helps to bring in working holidaymakers from countries such as the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, Germany and the Netherlands. At last count, the company has welcomed over 38 nationalities.

Downs:rules have been loosened to encourage holidaymakers to take jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry

“Eighty per cent of the people on our tours are here for a working holiday. Our main tour is an eight-day package where we cover their accommodation for a week. At the end of the week, we help these 20 individuals to set up their tax file number, phone, and bank account, before helping them find a job in our database of employers,” detailed Ogle.

Business has been good, he added, and tours have been “full” for the last six weeks.

This positive sentiment is echoed by Wendi Aylward, managing director of the American Institute for Foreign Study (Australia) (AIFS). Similarly, AIFS conducts orientations and helps working holidaymakers find work, primarily in the hospitality sector due to their partnership with hotel groups.

When asked where her clients hail from, Aylward shared they are “mostly from Western Europe”, although the company recruits “through partners around the globe”. Within Asia-Pacific, Japan stands out as a “strong growing market”, with AIFS recently handling its first arrivals from Japan.

“We only restarted in January, so our numbers are relatively small, with around a dozen to 20 working holidaymakers entering Australia every week,” she said.

Hospitality help
Hospitality companies interviewed by TTG Asia all indicate that working holidaymakers are an important part of their workforce, and are a great source of talent. Hence, aside from government initiatives, companies are doing their part to entice working holidaymakers to walk through their doors.

For example, Leanne Harwood, senior managing director – JAPAC of IHG Hotels & Resorts, shared that the company introduced initiatives such as myBenefits, which boasts paid parental and birthday leave; and myFlex, a system where an individual can self-schedule their working hours to balance work-life commitments, as long as they complete a minimum number of hours.

Illustrating the importance of having working holidaymakers in hotel operations, Harwood said there are cases where the company has to cap hotel occupancies, due to a shortage of this workforce segment, to ensure the guest experience is not impacted.

“IHG currently has around 900 advertised roles,” she shared.

Earlier in November 2021, Accor rolled out a talent attraction programme, Work Your Way, in an attempt to bolster its workforce in Australia and New Zealand.

Sarah Derry, CEO of Accor Pacific, told TTG Asia: “We also have introduced initiatives such as Same Day Hire where a candidate can be interviewed, hired and start working all on the very same day.”

She noted: “Working holidaymakers help us to bolster our workforce over peak periods such as during the school holidays and ski seasons. This group of individuals also bring varying skills and diversity, providing Accor with different thought perspectives and complementing our existing workforce.”

However for 2022, with working holiday visas down 86 per cent compared to 2019, the labour shortage will not be solved anytime soon, she lamented.

To deal with the labour crunch at its properties, Ovolo Group is tapping onto the domestic market to fill positions, Downs said, which includes hiring high school students and undergrads.

Jarrah Morgan, deputy general manager at Bannisters Port Stephens, is also exploring domestic options.

“We have looked more broadly within Australia, with a particular focus on Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne. But with the borders open, we have refocused our efforts on attracting working holidaymakers,” said Morgan.

To help with relocation, the Australian boutique hotel group offers staff accommodation.

Derry: working holidaymakers help us to bolster our workforce over peak periods

Recovery roadblocks
These days, with more savings in the bank and a thirst for revenge travel, as well as competition from other countries, an uphill battle to entice working holidaymakers Down Under looms on the horizon.

Pre-pandemic there were usually around 300,000 people in Australia at all times on working holiday visas, but as of December 2021, there were only 40,000, Ogle said.

A working holidaymaker visa waiver spanning a longer duration – beyond just January to April – would have made Australia more attractive, opined Ogle.

“The visa waiver should have been made available for perhaps one year or more because this allows those who made the trip to Australia to tell their friends about the experience. These youths will (indirectly be) ambassadors for Australia,” he added.

“With borders now open, the government needs to rethink its working holiday programme. We believe access to visas need to be easier, with flexibility around how they spend their time in Australia,” said Downs, adding that the visa should encourage longer stays.

She proposed a working holiday duration of two years, with “some conditions surrounding the goals and outcomes”.

“For example, they can choose two different hotel groups within the two years, which will encourage them to stay longer while still gaining the most out of their time in Australia,” she said.

Working holidaymakers are “imperative” to Ovolo’s business, and the company is trying to source for necessary visas. However, Downs said it has been difficult, as “processing times are out of our control”, while “some countries still have quarantine restrictions” in place.

But with travel resuming and the world returning to normality, Downs is positive about being able to entice working holidaymakers to work with the company.

Aylward enthused: “I am optimistic about the year ahead because there are amazing opportunities for young people – the most resilient to the pandemic’s challenges – to travel and work in Australia.”

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