Too cashed-up? Why backpackers aren't filling Queenstown jobs

by Lauren Pattemore - Nov 30, 2022

Plenty of Queenstown employers were hoping working holidaymakers would fill their vacancies quickly, but they haven't yet. Are backpackers pockets too full or are they not yet in the country? 

Minister for Immigration Michael Wood says since March, 18,000 working holiday visitors have arrived in the country. And, in the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago Districts, many employers were betting on them to alleviate staff shortage woes, like they did pre-pandemic.

Minister Wood says there's 18,000 working holiday visitors in New Zealand right now.

Lack of accomodation is a big contributor to the problem, but there's other factors at play.

Darelle Jenkins, Hospitality New Zealand's regional manager, says housing availability and affordability is a "crisis" in the town, but speculates whether visitors may have built up a nest egg whilst borders have been closed and aren't needing to work yet. 

“We are seeing applications coming in from Working Holiday Visa holders, but they have been slower than hoped as a lot are coming in with savings to spend first as they haven't been spending for a long while.”

Kim Hamilton, the co-director of recruitment agency Addstaff Queenstown, says there’s only been a “small trickle” of job applications from visa holders, and her business is finding it hard to fill roles.

“Whilst tourism is quickly getting back to its former glory the same cannot be said for the job market in terms of employees.

“We had a small jump in registrations since the borders opened but nothing like what we were imagining.”

Information supplied by Minister Wood reveals half of our working travellers haven’t made the move yet - there are 19,000 people with approved visas still living overseas.

Jan Rae, the co-owner of Wai Hospitality Group, who Crux spoke with in recent weeks about her decision to purchase a staff house for employees, has her own theory: she reckons a lot of visa holders will arrive after the holiday season.

“They’re waiting for Christmas with Nana and then they’ll come over,” she says.

She expects staffing pressures to continue for a while longer still, with visitors coming “cashed up”, wanting to travel first.

Yesterday, Crux took to the streets to hunt out some working holidaymakers to talk to. 

We spoke with eight visitors with working holiday visa's in Queenstown’s CBD, and two of them fit the "cashed-up backpackers" theory.

Martine and Nils arrived from Germany in September, both with savings and big travel plans, but have since settled down into jobs.

Martine arrived on the 22nd, and up until three weeks ago was traveling around the South Island - now, he's started working in hospitality, needing to fill up his pockets again.

“It started to eat into my savings,” Martine says.

Martine began working after his savings started to shrink.

Similarly, Nils has been traveling for two months, arriving in the North Island on September 14. He had his first shift last Thursday, November 24.

After two months, Nils starting working in Queenstown last week.

But the rest of those interviewed didn't fit the too-cashed-up-to-work mould. Four had come with jobs lined up already, and the remaining two, Edita and Agnius, traveled for the first few weeks, and are now working or looking for a job.

Kylie and Emma, who arrived in the past month, found their jobs online on Seek.

Emma (left) and Kylie (right) came with jobs lined up.

Kylie says she wants to get comfortable and settled first in New Zealand and then travel towards the end of her stay.

On the other hand, Emma says she can't afford to travel first and wants to start earning. She says she applied for jobs and “got loads of interviews”.

Neline and Jo are only visiting Queenstown, but have been in New Zealand for two months, based up in Wairarapa and working on a dairy farm. They found the job listing in a local Netherlands newspaper. 

Neline and Jo came over with dairy jobs, after seeing a local advert at home in the Netherlands.

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