Noosa workers staying in hostels as tourists return to the Sunshine Coast

Tourism industry workers in Noosa share eight-bed rooms in hostels as restaurants, cafes and hotels in the resort town fill with visitors.

Visitors to the hamlet of Sunshine Coast are up 40% from pre-COVID levels, putting pressure on businesses that have had to close or lay off workers over the past two years.

Sarah Brown, 20, moved to the east coast of Western Australia and stayed with Nomads Noosa backpackers for two months while working in a cafe on popular Hastings Street.

She shares her bedroom with seven other women and hangs towels around her bunk bed for privacy.

Mrs. Brown loves her job and the city, and would be willing to move into a shared house with other people from the hostel if that were an option.

“There’s nothing,” she said, referring to the availability of rental properties.

“Everything is either too far or too expensive.

Ms Brown says clients cannot believe the living conditions she endures.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

“But every cafe has a sign saying ‘Need Workers’.”

Cars Along Tree Lined Street
Cafes and restaurants along Hastings Street are struggling to find workers as tourism gradually returns to pre-COVID levels.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Ms Brown said when she served food and coffee to customers at her workplace, they were shocked to learn she would be returning home to backpackers.

In March, the Real Estate Institute of Queensland reported that Noosa’s rental vacancy rate was 0.8%, with less than one rental property available for every 100 in the area.

Rentals transforming into short stays

Nomads managing director Hamish Hill estimated that around 30 people lived in his hostel long-term while working in Noosa.

He said some of them were his own staff, who either chose to stay in backpackers or struggled to find another place to live.

Man standing outdoors, surfboards in background
Mr Hill says he has a responsibility to house local workers so businesses can stay open.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

“We have people of all hospitality [business] in Noosa who end up staying here and basically living there,” Mr Hill said.

“We also feel somehow obligated or responsible to take care of these people, because we rely on these seasonal workers and backpackers to stay in Noosa.”

He said Noosa’s popularity meant rental homes were increasingly being rented out on short-term stay platforms such as Airbnb.

Staff shortage hits tourist town

Tourism Noosa boss Melanie Anderson said some of Noosa’s most popular seaside restaurants had stopped serving breakfast because they didn’t have enough staff.

Woman in white shirt with light pink jacket in front of greenery
Ms Anderson says some companies have bought their own properties so they can house workers locally.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

“A lot of these restaurants have made the decision to open for lunch or dinner and keep the staff they have,” she said.

“It’s really a tough decision for any business to cut some of their revenue.

“But to keep the staff and maintain their high level of service, that’s what they had to do.”

Houses purchased to house workers

The situation has become so serious that some employers like Sue Willis have bought properties to house their workers.

Woman in pink top standing on balcony by the sea
Niche Luxury Accommodation boss Ms Willis said she had to step in to clean and tidy holiday properties due to a shortage of cleaners.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Ms Willis rents out holiday homes and units across Noosa, some costing thousands of dollars a night.

But his company Niche Luxury Accommodation couldn’t find cleaners to tend to the properties, despite charging $60 an hour.

Beach view with yacht on water
Houses like this on popular Noosa Main Beach are out of reach for hotel workers.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

The labor shortage meant that Ms. Willis went into clean rooms.

“I can make a three-sheet bed, which is very convenient I would say,” she said.

Ms Anderson said other companies were exploring Ms Willis’ decision to provide workers with accommodation.

But it was not an easy solution.

“As we know property is expensive in Noosa,” Ms Anderson said.

Help wanted backpackers sign
Some companies had reduced their opening hours because they could not find staff.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Back at the hostel, Ms Brown said she was now considering leaving Noosa and heading north to Cairns in the hope of seeing more of the country and perhaps finding a more permanent place to live.

She said the backpacker lifestyle was “wearing out” for her.

“Every week it gets harder and harder,” she said.

“Because it’s another week of coming home and not having your own space.”

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