Pubs prepared for great unknown

Popular Southern 80 venue: Riverside venues such as the Henry’s Bridge Hotel are generally filled with Southern 80 fans from Friday until Sunday, but a change of date has hospitality venue operators unsure of what to expect.' Photo: Rusty Woodger Photo by Rusty Woodger

Echuca-Moama hospitality operators are entering the great unknown this weekend, as the effect of a change of date for what is traditionally one of the region’s biggest events, the Southern 80, remains unknown.

The Southern 80 is traditionally a summer event, held in February, but due to COVID-19 complications with emergency services availability the event was forced to postpone to this weekend.

Moama Water Sports Club organisers will be hoping a weather forecast of 19ºC and a 70 per cent chance of rain is way off the mark.

Jarman Hospitality Group director Paul Jarman operates three hospitality venues in Echuca and is uncertain about the “spectator factor’’ this weekend.

“For Echuca and Moama the Southern 80 is usually a ripper weekend,’’ Mr Jarman said.

“A normal Southern 80 weekend attracts the competitors, their friends, relatives and supporters.

“But a big part of the spending in our venues is from the fans that set up along the river and fill the motels and caravan parks.

“Those people are a substantial part of the event, and the spending in entertainment venues. I am just not sure of how much of that fan base will be here for a May event.”

Mr Jarman said while the change of dates created uncertainty on patronage levels, he was scheduling extra staff to ensure he could cater for the ski crowd.

“I am just unsure of how busy the weekend will be,” he said.

“Our workforce will be 20 per cent down on where it would normally be this weekend.

“That is more to do with COVID than anything else. We have increased staff for this weekend by 20 per cent, so I hope we have got it right.”

Hospitality venues in Echuca and Bendigo are among several Victorian tourism locations that will benefit from a Victorian Government announcement in relation to hospital and tourism traineeships.

A $6 million initiative that will provide 240 jobseekers with hospitality and tourism traineeships, to help address workforce shortages across the state, was announced this week.

Trainees will receive 12 months of secure employment, undertaking placements across regional businesses, while completing a Certificate III in Hospitality or Tourism.

To attract staff, trainees will be paid a wage supplement up to $10,000 above the relevant industry award over the 12-month period.

They will also receive one-on-one mentoring in the lead-up to the traineeship and while on the job.

Roles will be prioritised for women over 45, people under 25, First Nations Victorians and people who are long-term unemployed.

The initiative will roll out across regional Victoria with a focus on the hospitality and tourism centres of Bendigo, Echuca, South Coast, Geelong, Colac, Ballarat, Mildura and Gippsland between now and mid-2023.

Mr Jarman said his organisation had been “paying over the odds” to attract the right staff post-COVID.

“The last six months has been extremely difficult, probably the toughest time of the whole two years of COVID,” he said.

“Just finding appropriate staff and finding enough staff has been an enormous challenge.”

Mr Jarman said the announcement of new traineeships would certainly help, following on from recent Federal Government funding, also aimed at addressing staff shortages.

“We used the federal funding to assist with two new positions and we would certainly be keen to use this to add a couple of diploma quality employees through this latest initiative,” he said.

He said the Goulburn Valley Designated Area Migrant Agreement would also play a part in Campaspe hospitality and tourism businesses filling the staffing void.

“The GV DAMA will encourage international people to come back and work in the industries it supports — horticulture, hospitality, tourism and others,” Mr Jarman said

He said across his hospitality group there was probably half the usual amount of international employees, due to visa complications and a lack of financial support for these workers during COVID.

“We have five or six (international workers) across our businesses, mostly in Echuca, but it would normally be double that,” he said.

“A lot of the international sponsored workforce went home.

“We are working with our existing people to sure them up long term, and the GV DAMA significantly helps us.”