Working in paradise aka Hamilton Island – retaining employees in the tourism and hospitality industry

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Hamilton Island is situated in the heart of the Whitsundays, a group of 74 tropical islands in the Coral Sea off the northern coast of Australia.  Only 12 of these islands are inhabited, with Hamilton Island being the largest.

The balmy weather and tropical scenery has made it home to a thriving tourism industry, with thousands of tourists flocking to the island each year, alongside seasonal backpackers looking for work.  These make up a majority of the island’s relatively young workforce, but poses some problems.

The workforce is somewhat small but ranging in occupations.  Most positions held on the island are made up of hospitality and tourism staff, retail workers, business and admin support roles, as well as trained medical staff.

Despite the beautiful year-round weather, a laid-back and inviting night-life and promises of good work-life balance, working in paradise doesn’t always cut it for employees.

Gaps and challenges

A union report published back in 2006 raised issues around poor employee wages in the hospitality and tourism sector, and the failure of employers to invest in training for their employees to provide them with the incentive to enter and stay in the industry.

In an inquiry launched in regards to the challenges being faced with workforce and economic development, raised poor retention rates as being a key challenge.

Training and Development Manager of Hamilton Island Resort, Ben McCarron said there were a number of reasons for these challenges.

“The current ASCO codes allow some flexibility for Regional and Remote employers however the areas that have the highest turnover fall into the ‘unskilled’ categories, namely housekeeping, stewarding and other ‘low skill’ positions,” he said.

“Whilst we are able to attract Australian youth (Generation Y) to these positions, the perception that these are less glamorous roles leads to low retention/high turnover.  There are few, if any, visa/sponsorship options for attracting the overseas ‘unskilled’ workforce.”

He says due to a flooded and competitive employer market and conflicting opportunities in Australia, it was difficult to source talent that wanted a long term career in hospitality, creating an “employee-driven, not employer-driven marketplace”.

Solutions to challenges

  • Invest in a recruitment marketing campaign advertising the lifestyle to entice more young, talented workers to come and work on the island with an emphasis on career development while having fun.
  • Develop a formal nationally accredited training program in conjunction with major establishments on the island to enable workers to upskill and gain recognised qualifications in hospitality and tourism while working on the island.
  • Incentivise long service and high performance through revising pay structures, providing promotions and clear succession planning outlined by the employer.
  • Assess the length of time to process applications, types of visa’s and a need for more flexibility, review of skills levels within existing visa categories to assist with recruitment of non-trades labour.

Since the report, some of these solutions have already come into fruition.  An enterprise pilot program trialed on the island in 2010 has seen success.

In partnership with the Salvation Army, the OASIS Territorials Pathways Program offers successful applicants aged 18 to 25 the opportunity to live and work on Hamilton Island for 12 months minimum.  While there, the young people work towards earning a Certificate III in Hospitality.  But most importantly, they will be provided with accommodation, income, and experience for their resume in the future.  Since 2010, the program has seen more than 25 disadvantaged youth gain employment, experience and skills in Hospitality.

Looking forward to 2015, there are opportunities to further develop such programs and revise the process with professional workforce specialists. A workforce development plan will have a strengths and gaps analysis conducted to identify further development opportunities for existing programs.

Workforce BluePrint can guide your organisation through the process of improving retention rates through the assessment of human resource, career progression and development strategies to improve retention in your company, industry or regional area.

To have a chat, contact Wendy Perry, Head Workforce Planner at

April 2015.


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