Staff shortages holding West Coast businesses back amid tourism boom

The West Coast is back in business. The latest figures show in December, visitors spent 20 percent more than they did pre-pandemic. But staff shortages are still holding businesses back from full trading.

Local businesses report feeling positive after being brought to their knees during the pandemic. Tourism is booming once more.

"It's been very busy this year, it's been good, a lot of overseas people here now," one tour driver said.

"We've been very, very lucky, the weather's been nice and back to pre-COVID I would say, maybe a little bit more," said Vonnie Cherry, the manager of the West Coast Tree Top Walkway.

The latest data shows definitely a bit more than pre-COVID. The total visitor spend on the West Coast during December 2022 was $21 million - that's 20 percent more than 2019, before the pandemic.

"I think it's just that pent-up demand we were anticipating a bit of a slow start and I think we just underestimated how much ppl wanted to get out," Development West Coast CEO Heath Milne said.

The largest international markets on the West Coast in December were Australia, the US, and Europe, followed by the UK.

However, hardest-hit areas - Fox and Franz Josef - haven't quite caught up to pre-COVID levels, with $2.72m in December 2022 v $2.76m in December 2019.

Staff shortages there and throughout the coast are holding some businesses back from their full potential.

"We need a second chef which we haven't been able to fill that position," Cherry said.

"It's just trying to get that happy mix where we're not burning the staff out and we're still giving the customers that good service so it's been a bit of a juggle."

International visas are the hold-up.

"There are a lot of backpackers coming through which is great but it's the higher skilled workers, it's those chefs in particular. They are lining up, they want to come but it's just getting them through that system which is taking time," Milne said.

Businesses welcoming tourists - now it's just the skilled workforce they're waiting for.