Low-cost accommodation is essential to attract seasonal workers, but ‘budget’ does have not to mean low quality.
Budget accommodation Essential to Support Workers
Many horticulture enterprises need to attract seasonal workers during peak times, usually harvest. Some of these workers may be available in the local community, especially regulars that return each year. However, a large proportion will travel to a region to gain work for the period that a particular crop is creating a large number of jobs, and they all need somewhere to stay.
Backpackers are well serviced in some regions with ‘working hostels’. These businesses have a focus on supporting working holidaymakers by providing low-cost accommodation in a communal living arrangement.
Regions that have short seasonal bursts may not have sufficient occupancy over the year for hostels to exist as a viable business, whereas commodities with long seasons, or regions with multiple crops over the year, are more likely to survive financially. The buildings are often converted from a previous function and are adapted to share-living, and the standards vary considerably. Local governments often have regulations to enforce minimum health and safety standards, which add to a hostel operator’s overheads and naturally impact on the viability of a hostel. Unregulated sharehouses often appear in a vacuum created by a lack of approved budget accommodation, and while these can serve a purpose, they can create issues within the community.
To circumvent the issue of viability in a region with a short seasonal worker demand, multi-purpose accommodation can be the answer. If the accommodation is suitable for tourists as well as seasonal workers, the boost to occupancy can make the difference between being viable or not. The style and standard of that accommodation is often the crucial factor. The level accepted by backpackers is generally lower than that demanded by couples or families, particularly domestic tourists. A lesser cost will only offset a lower standard to certain degree.
Like many regional caravan and tourist parks, the Tumbarumba Caravan Park is owned by the local shire council. In 2019 the Snowy Valleys Council recognised the need to support regional activity requiring out-of-area workers by investing in budget accommodation at the Park. This would have been welcomed by local horticulture operations, particularly blueberries and winegrapes. However, to ensure they did not alienate visitors to the town attracted by the beautiful mountain scenery, the Council invested in good quality budget accommodation.
The mining industry is well known for providing transportable accommodation in remote areas, and standards have to be high enough to satisfy a fussy Australian FIFO workforce for their day-to-day living. Infrastructure no longer needed since the heady days of the mining boom, both used and brand new, has found its way onto the general market.
Based on ‘donga’ style buildings, supported by a strong metal superstructure and set onto substantial groundworks, the complex built by the Snowy Valleys Council ticks budget and quality boxes. Each small bedroom has either a bunk or double bed and its own ensuite. Lockable storage cupboards are built in, along with an air-conditioning unit, a bar fridge and a TV. Each room is ideal for friends or couples travelling together.
A separate and well-appointed adjacent kitchen building has 14 ‘modules’, each with its own cooktop and stainless steel benches for food preparation. All utensils and cookware are provided. An open air dining area is available, although guests are welcome to take food back to their rooms. A laundry with multiple coin-operated machines is also part of the complex.
The Price is Right
Pricing has been structured so that short term stays are cheaper than motels or pubs, which will satisfy the budget-conscious tourist clientele just looking for a cheap bed and enhance the viability of the complex. However, for workers wanting to stay in the region for several weeks, longer term deals are available that will compare favourably with working hostel prices. And with the privacy of a double room in a modern well-appointed building, the standard is above what most hostels can offer.
Local industry groups have commended the Snowy Valleys Council for their foresight and investment in building this complex. For the properties that need seasonal workers, particularly the nearby berry farm that employs hundreds of workers for many weeks at the start of each year, having this excellent facility will ensure that there is unlikely to be an accommodation barrier when sourcing the workforce they need during the critical harvest period.