A Travel Diary – Nothing open, but you can ride on a hydrogen bus

Recently, I heard that Stuart Nash, Minister for Tourism, thought that tourists would like to ride around on hydrogen buses. Meanwhile, many of the shops, bars, and restaurants the tourists want to visit may not be open because the owners have too few staff.

The point is obvious. I do not think tourists will care at all about hydrogen buses if there is nothing open to visit because businesses are short of staff. Hospitals are short of doctors and nurses, and all other industries are suffering because they cannot find enough staff. It is an immigration crisis the government does not seem to want to solve, because we must employ our own people first. Meanwhile, 100,000 people are on the job-seeker subsidy, gainfully being paid to do nothing and pretending to want to work, but not. I have heard that many of these people deliberately fail the drug test when they do apply for a job. Thus, we have two problems; we cannot find locals to work and the government does not seem capable of getting those on the job seeker subsidy to work; and on the other hand, the government slowly, ponderously moves along the immigration trail.

I cannot speak for the problems relating to the medical industry, but I can provide an  anecdotal story of my recent holiday in Queenstown as to how this problem is evolving and the impact on the local economy.

I was staying at a friend’s place, Millbrook Resort, and my colleague at a hotel. He was informed on arrival that his room would not be serviced as there were no staff to service it. When I asked reception about catching the shuttle into Queenstown, we discussed the problem of a lack of staff. The receptionist told me they were short 20 – 25 staff. My friend told me that his relative had just started a marketing job at  Millbrook. It was not long before she was asked to work as a waitress too.

I collected my colleague and headed into town. Queenstown is now very busy with tourists. Finding a car park was hard, but as I usually do, I spotted one and moved quickly to grab it before it disappeared.  We walked into town and found the first bar packed with tourists.  I discovered that another popular bar was closed due to lack of staff. A fine fish restaurant was closed for the same reason. As we walked along the waterfront, here and there, restaurants were closed, but the town was swarming with tourists.  Many shops were advertising for managers and baristas, and the like. A favourite bar of mine was closed. My colleague and I tried to find a place that was not either full of people, nor closed. Eventually, we found an Asian restaurant where we could have a beer and something to eat, which took 45 minutes.

Later, when my partner arrived to join me, we went to the historical town,  Arrowtown, for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. I booked one month in advance. We chatted to our waitress, who was Irish and had been living in New Zealand for some time. In addition to waitressing, she ran a mushroom factory that supplied the mushrooms to the restaurant. Not only does she supply them with food, but she also helps them out by waitressing three days a week so the restaurant can stay open.

Another day, we took the Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Estate. I booked  this trip one month out, and it was full of tourists. While crossing the lake, we talked to a family from Melbourne, Australia. They had really enjoyed their stay in New Zealand, but their holiday was cut short because Air New Zealand had cancelled their flight home (presumably due to a lack of staff). Luckily, they got on a flight a day earlier than planned. This also happened to my friend (who lives at Millbrook), when he came down to Queenstown from Auckland. His original flight was cancelled due to staff shortages.

We got off at Walter Estate and enjoyed a fine BBQ feast. We chatted to the “waiter” when we paid for our wine. He was English and had been living in New Zealand for twenty years. Naturally, I asked him if they were short of staff. Of course, they were. The shortage meant they use the estate gardeners to help waiter and serve drinks occasionally.

Hospitality may not be as critical as running hospitals and finding bus drivers, but the point is that it seems every sector is struggling to find staff. In the case of the hospitality industry, businesses are suffering from a loss of income, the pressure of paying bills and the constant worry of whether they will be, or can stay open tomorrow. Those lucky enough that they can stay open, are doing very well. Thus, it is a two-edge sword. Labour shortages seem to be a global problem, but at the same time, New Zealand had a long lead time to plan for this problem. It appears on the surface that the government has failed on many fronts to confront and plan for such a crisis. In many ways, we are all paying for that now.

Footnote: Another contributing factor to a worker shortage in Queenstown is a lack of suitable accommodation. According to a Queenstown spokesperson, Queenstown is short 800 houses and rents are between $600-$700 per week. Part of the reason for this shortage is that many landlords use their investment properties as Airbnb accommodation, thus cutting down the supply of potential rental properties.  The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, the new tenancy laws now make it much harder to evict unruly tenants. One landlord I know, left a six-bedroom house vacant for months until they found a family they felt comfortable in renting the property to. Secondly, by using Airbnb instead of renting, you not only avoid the tenancy laws, Airbnb can be more profitable than renting out a property. The counter argument to this issue, is should the government be providing more affordable housing in Queenstown for workers? Should the government be limiting the Airbnb accommodation (a problem that places like Barcelona in Spain had to address to overcome their housing crisis) in Queenstown by applying appropriate tax rules and the like? This is a conundrum for both the government and Queenstown businesses and not an easy problem to solve.

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