Noosa workers staying in hostels as tourists return to Sunshine Coast

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

Visitors to the Sunshine Coast hamlet have increased 40 per cent above pre-COVID levels putting pressure on businesses who had to close or stand down workers over the past two years.

Sarah Brown, 20, moved to the east coast from Western Australia and has been staying at the Nomads Noosa backpackers for two months while working a cafe job on popular Hastings Street.

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

Ms Brown enjoys her work and the town, and would be willing to move into a share house with others from the hostel if it were an option.

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

“Everything’s either too far away or too expensive.

Smiling woman in doorway with bunk beds in background
Ms Brown says customers cannot believe the living conditions she is putting up with.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

“But every single cafe has a sign saying, ‘Workers needed’.”

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 find out she would head home to a backpackers.

In March, the Real Estate Institute of Queensland reported that Noosa’s rental vacancy rate was 0.8 percent, with fewer than one rental property available for every 100 across the region.

Rentals converting to short-stay

Nomads general manager Hamish Hill estimated about 30 people were living at his hostel on a long-term basis while working in Noosa.

He said some of them were his own staff, who either chose to stay in the backpackers, or have struggled to find somewhere else to live.

Man standing outside, 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’ve got people from every hospitality [business] in Noosa that end up staying here and living here basically,” Mr Hill said.

“We also feel somewhat of an obligation or responsibility to look after those people as well, because we rely on those seasonal workers and backpackers to stay in Noosa.”

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

Staff shortages hit tourism town

Tourism Noosa boss Melanie Anderson said some of Noosa’s most popular beachfront dining spots had stopped serving breakfast because they did not have enough staff.

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

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

“It really is a hard decision for any business to make, to cut off some of their revenue.

“But in order to keep staff, and keep their high levels of service, this is what they’ve had to do.”

Homes bought to house workers

The situation has become so dire that some employers such as Sue Willis have bought properties to house their workers.

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

Ms Willis lets holiday houses and units across Noosa, some that cost thousands of dollars a night.

But her firm Niche Luxury Accommodation could not find cleaners to look after the properties, despite offering a rate of $60 an hour.

Beach view with yacht on the water
Homes like this on Noosa’s popular Main Beach are out of reach of hospitality workers.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

The worker shortage has meant that Ms Willis has pitched in to clean rooms.

“I can make a mean triple-sheeted bed, which is very handy I might say,” she said.

Ms Anderson said other businesses were exploring Ms Willis’ decision to provide worker accommodation.

But it was not an easy solution.

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

Help wanted signs in backpackers
Some businesses had reduced 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 hopes of seeing more of the country, and maybe finding somewhere more permanent to live.

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

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

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

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