February 8, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

Despite reports that 56,000 international students have arrived in Australia since November 2021, the largest outsourcing company for hotel housekeepers says the industry is still critically short of staff and many hotels have capped their capacity due to the shortfall.

Business Development Manager of Australian Hospitality Services (AHS), Justin Jones, said they were placing students into jobs as soon as they applied.

“We have placed thousands of staff – not tens of thousands – but we need thousands more across the whole country,” he said.

The hotel industry may still have to wait several months to return to some normality. Jones said he was in regular contact with student accommodation providers who indicated that the first half of 2022 would remain soft, but the second half was looking stronger for the return of international students for the second semester.

Justin Jones from Australian Hospitality Services

He said AHS could place all suitable applicants but many hotels that usually had 80 percent occupancy were capped at 30 percent now because they did not have sufficient demand or their own staff were impacted by COVID-19.

“So they did not have resources to provide the necessary level of guest services from check-in to housekeeping to laundry to buffet servers and wait staff.”

Last November in Melbourne AHS experienced an increase in demand as people became more confident to travel and accommodation demand suddenly increased around the upcoming Australian Open, but when the Omicron variant hit, bookings cancelled and it had a knock-on effect for AHS and other outsourcing companies.

“That could easily happen if the market jumps again…our pain point is no different to the hotels.”

Jones said that while international students made up the bulk of placements, working holiday makers would often spend six months in a city working in hospitality before heading into the regions for fruit picking. They often spent another six months working in a hotel before they finished their two-year stay, so they were an important part of the mix as well.

The international student market was a $40 billion market for Australia pre-COVID and is said to have supported more than 250,000 jobs.

After reopening Australia’s border to international students and working holiday makers in late 2021, the federal government introduced a visa fee rebate initiative in January which will last eight weeks for students and 12 weeks for working holiday makers, in an effort to bring more of these visa holders to Australia sooner to help alleviate labour supply issues. The federal government also removed the cap on the number of hours international students can work each fortnight.