In March 2021, the Innamincka Hotel was faced with an urgent staffing problem. As is normal following the quiet summer months, the pub was operating with a bare-bones staff of five but two had just been locked down in Brisbane right before the Easter Long Weekend.
So, on the eve of the crucial first weekend of the 2021 visitor season, the Innamincka Hotel was forced to reduce their opening hours and accommodation capacity, and turn away bookings for the season that was supposed to make up for the brutal losses of 2020.
How did we help one of Australia’s most remote pubs recruit a full team of 12 new staff members in less than two weeks?
Staffing has become exceptionally difficult to navigate for tourism and hospitality businesses after the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and even more complex in remote and regional areas.
The unpredictable nature of operating during a pandemic means that forecasting is effectively guesswork. Visitation could be extremely high or moderately low, and snap border closures can eliminate months of preparation with a moment’s notice anyway.
It’s always a challenge to entice good workers to remote areas but the additional instability has placed a huge risk on casual workers. A lot of experienced talent has left the tourism and hospitality industry altogether in pursuit of more stable work. International backpackers, a reliable and valuable workforce for many remote businesses, are no longer available.
As many other business owners will understand, the pressure is on to have a fruitful 2021 to make up for the repeated losses during 2020. For the Innamincka Hotel, as a highly seasonal business the time pressure was on too, with most of the Hotel’s visitation captured between April and October when visitors can comfortably explore the Outback during the cooler temperatures.
The Innamincka Hotel needed a full team of 10+ staff members for a range of roles including bar and restaurant service, housekeeping, cooking, guest services and tour guides. Above all, these hires needed to be people with great characters who can handle the nature of remote living, get along with a team and be happy to get in and do any job that needs to be done.
So, how did we entice the right people to jump on at least two planes and spend three to six months in a remote outpost on the edge of two deserts?
For most of the densely populated areas in Australia, the only news that filters through from remote areas is often when disaster strikes. It completely undersells the many reasons why so many Aussies do live off the beaten track.
Yes, remote life can be challenging – and we needed to attract pragmatic candidates – but it can be bloody spectacular too. Our insight was that it’s completely different to life in the inner city, and living and working in the Outback can be an incredible adventure.
We weren’t just offering a job in the middle of nowhere – we were offering the opportunity to take a working holiday and discover a side of Australia they had never seen before. The chance to learn new skills, meet wonderful people and expand their resumé by contributing to an award-winning tourism experience. And on their time off, they could explore incredible scenery, experience Outback Australia and connect with people from all walks of life.
The Tactical Side
Over the last five years, the Innamincka Hotel has steadily accumulated a passionate audience of advocates on social media. As Jo Fort, the Hotel’s owner, has described our approach to marketing over the years, “we speak to the people who love us”. With this as a guiding principle, the content has been a mix of local updates, conversation pieces and the occasional scenery shot. Nothing too edited, just the real Innamincka. Now in 2021, nearly 25,000 passionate advocates follow the Innamincka Hotel’s Facebook page.
It’s the 2021 bush telegraph, and word travels fast.
We spoke to a former employee, Georgie, who gave us a fantastic review of life and work at Innamincka, including the golden line, “I worked hard but I never stopped having fun”. This perfectly encapsulated the energy and personalities that we needed to attract.
The ads led directly to a dedicated page on the Innamincka Hotel website. It was simple to navigate, with a form to tick some non-negotiables (i.e. holding the right to work in Australia) and a box with the option to attach a resumé. For these roles, it was important to have a submission format that didn’t weigh down applicants with a bureaucratic application process.
On the receiving end, the submissions were received over email with the key points already noted. It was easy and organised for management to process the applications and continue to the interview and hiring stage. The involvement of the onsite Manager, Nichelle Hodgson, was integral to the success of the campaign. Nichelle was clear on the attributes she required for each applicant, which informed the messaging and ensured the campaign reinforced the goals of the business.
Within less than two weeks, the Innamincka Hotel had secured a full team of 11 all-rounder staff members and a chef, and the Hotel was back to full operating capacity.
With visitor season now in full swing in the Flinders Ranges and Outback, the 2021 season looks like it may be the year of redemption after all.
How did they feel about the outcome?
“On this lovely Sunday evening I’m sending a huge shout out to you and the Woof Team. Thanks to you and your words Innamincka has secured a Chef and full team of 11 staff onsite and ready to resume business as usual from tomorrow.”
Jo – Innamincka Hotel Owner
Do you need help to find staff for your regional or remote business?
Simply posting job vacancies on Seek or Facebook is not enough to attract motivated applicants right now. You need to sell more than just a job to potential employees.