Call for working holiday visas changes as Queenstown faces crippling worker shortages

There are calls for further changes to working holiday visas to get more young workers to come here.

What's shaping up as Queenstown's busiest winter in years has coincided with a crippling worker shortage.

Many hospitality businesses are being forced to cancel bookings and close their doors.

Queenstown - beautiful, busy, and begging for workers. Thousands of them, and it's impossible to miss. It seems every second business has signs in the window, most needing to hire multiple staff.

"The labour shortage crisis is the worst it's ever been in the 30 years since I've been running restaurants in this town," business owner Fleur Caulton told Newshub.

"The reality is we could hire a dozen people today, and we would still be understaffed," said Future Hospitality Group operations manager Bert Haines.

The timing couldn't be worse with record numbers of Australians visiting, meaning for the first time in nearly three years the demand is huge.

"It's just heartbreaking when the business is there and we're unable to do what we do well," Caulton said.

"The business, it's not even that it's at our door, it's booked in and ready to go - we're having to tell them that we can't take them," Haines added.

There's both a national and international labour shortage but Queenstown is a place hit harder than most due to the transitory nature of people that live here and the reliance on migrant workers.

"We used to have about 5000 migrant workers in the town, we think we've lost between 2000 to 2500," Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult said.

Operators are crying out for more help.

"Working holiday visas, the process needs to be simplified, it needs to be fast, it needs to be quick. These people want to come and work in New Zealand," Caulton said.

"We should have been out ahead of this, it's tough and Australia is leading the way and doing quite a lot to attract people," Haines said.

Because it's taking its toll.

"It's very stressful, hoteliers telling me they can only book 80 percent because they can't service the rooms, restaurants closing two nights a week," Boult said.

"All of our staff are under serious pressure. Mentally, physically, we're all exhausted," Caulton said.

The ski industry had help from the Government to get staff, but it's also feeling the pinch.

"Right now we're pretty challenged to maintain the service levels that we would aspire to," Coronet Peak ski area manager Nigel Kerr said.

The message is come to beautiful Queenstown to work but also keep coming to visit, just be patient and kind to the overworked staff.