Business owners in one of Australia's most sought-after tourist hotspots have been forced to resort to drastic action to get the staff they need for busy peak seasons, as soaring demand for the region's accommodation leaves workers with nowhere to live.
Picturesque towns along Australia's pristine coastline are ever-popular with both domestic and international travellers, and business operators say it's almost impossible for their staff to find appropriate accomodation during busy periods — with some even forced to sleep in "fitted-out sheds" and caravans.
One particularly popular travel destination, Sorrento on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, has such limited availability when it comes to housing, a local hotel manager put up his staff on "camp beds" just to meet the demand.
Sorrento hotel speaks out against 'impossible' crisis
"In peak (periods), it's almost impossible to get appropriate housing," Julian Robertshaw, the executive chef at The Continental Sorrento, told the ABC. "In summertime it'll go from $900 a week to like $2,000 a week to get a house down here. So that's a lot of money. It's out of people's reach."
Mr Robertshaw said that, given the lack of appropriate public transport, and the 90 minute drive time to get to Melbourne, the nearest major city, it's impractical to ask people to commute — and not always safe — so he has been forced to set up makeshift accomodation for workers.
"They were basically sleeping on camp beds, just so we'd have enough bodies to operate the place," Mr Robertshaw said. "You don't want to be based in Melbourne and travelling down here. Especially after a long day, it's very dangerous."
With up to 300 staff needed to operate the The Continental, and with summer just around the corner, the lack of housing at Sorrento for hospitality staff is a real problem multiple business owners now face.
In previous seasons, locals reported retailers having to close their doors altogether due to a lack of staff — a "heartbreaking" prospect during what should be the most prosperous period.
Similar issues plaguing coastal towns around Australia
The issue isn't exclusive to Victoria, with similar crises playing out in dozens of other tourist towns around the country. In NSW, Bryon Bay's housing crisis has been well-documented, with the area just days ago implementing a strict, short-term 60-day cap on holiday rental properties in response. About 1300, or one in 12 homes, in Byron Shire are being used as short-term rentals.
Byron Mayor Michael Lyon told Yahoo News last year the area simply "cannot afford" to lose anymore housing for locals who provide valuable labour for its economy.
Following the announcement, several other towns have also expressed interest in implementing similar rental caps.
NSW Premier Chris Minns said other local councils could apply for tighter limits on short-term rentals, but they need to be prepared to come to the table with more housing approvals in order to increase supply.
"It can't just be a situation where we put it all on Airbnb and short-term rentals," he said. "It's not good enough to just hang a sign up saying 'Byron's full'."
Experts have pointed to some European countries in the hunt for possible solutions, especially in places like the UK, Austria and Finland, where one in six people live in social housing, which provides homes not only to the disadvantaged, but to vital workers and people on low incomes.
In Australia, that number is less than one-in-20, with a decades-long wait lists restricting access.
With the warm weather already on our doorstep, and summer merely weeks away, locals and retailers alike from all over the country have called for government intervention to keep towns running and small businesses in operation.
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