Hospitality sector surges

Geoff and Dee Davenport, owners of Granite Belt Brewery. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Jess Baker

As visitor numbers in Stanthorpe continue to soar, more than a few local hospitality outlets are struggling to find the staff necessary to keep up.

Southern Downs Regional Council’s quarterly Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre report was tabled at the 28 April ordinary meeting, revealing visitor numbers not seen for years.

“Visitor numbers increased by an average of 59 percent over February and March 2021 compared to 2020,” said a SDRC spokesperson.

“The previous six months before this (July 2020 to December 2020) averaged an increase of 85 percent year on year.”

The spokesperson said a majority of visitors to Stanthorpe have been Queenslanders, with the recent increase attributable to the continued international travel restrictions and “pent up demand” from intrastate visitors.

This recent surge is no doubt a positive for the region, but it has been suggested that local accommodation and dining options may not be sufficient to support it long-term.

“The availability of hospitality outlets, particularly on the weekends, is an ongoing issue with regular feedback received at the Visitor Information Centre,” read the SDRC report.

Geoff Davenport, owner of popular accommodation and dining venue Granite Belt Brewery, said he has been trying to hire additional staff to meet the new demand for months, but to no avail.

“In hospitality, we’re looking for kitchen staff, wait staff and front of house staff. We’re also looking for cleaners,” Geoff said.

“We’ve had employment agencies (involved) and listings up for months.”

Geoff said that he has received a number of applications for the advertised jobs, but few have been “realistic”.

“We’ve had applications that end with ‘don’t bother contacting me, I’m not actually applying I just have to reach my (application) quota for Jobseeker’,” he said.

“Or you try contacting them and they don’t get back to you.”

Geoff said this issue is not new and many other hotels are experiencing the same, though it is frustrating to deal with.

Accommodation at Granite Belt Brewery is now booked out months in advance, and the restaurant days.

Geoff said that while the workload is manageable, having more kitchen staff would allow him to open the restaurant – which is currently shut for lunch and dinner Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – more days of the week.

Owner of Lily’s Café on High Street Susan Anderson said she too has noticed an increase in visitors in recent months, but has not been adversely affected by it.

Nonetheless, she is looking to hire a new cook.

Susan said the job has been advertised for some time, but she has only recently started receiving applications for it.

“There’s just not enough manpower at the moment,” she said.

“It keeps me very busy.”

Susan said having an extra staff member would allow her to open Lily’s Café seven days a week, instead of its current Monday through Saturday schedule.

A number of other local restaurant and café owners have reported similar issues with attracting staff for occupations like cooks and servers.