Staff shortages have reached a crisis point ahead of the July school holidays, with one Broome business owner describing the search for staff as akin to “looking for hen’s teeth”. Local businesses, when speaking to the Advertiser, have cited the ongoing accommodation shortage in the tourist town as a major contributor. Broome, along with the majority of Australia, has been crippled by a housing crisis since the start of COVID-19 in 2020, an issue which, in turn, has prevented the town from attracting and retaining workers. Broome Chamber of Commerce President Peter Taylor said the accommodation shortage was unlikely to change anytime soon, forcing many businesses to struggle day-to-day. “Obviously there are businesses in town that have managed to secure accommodation for their staff, but we also know its been a huge issue for many business in terms of attracting and retaining employees,” he said. Businesses such as The Mangrove and The Roebuck Bay Hotel have been able to offer staff housing, an element which the Roebuck Bay Hotel general manager Stewart Burchell said was a major reason they got applications. “In saying that, we don’t have enough rooms to house the amount of staff we want and so we can’t run the nightclub (the hotel’s sister venue Skyla) like we’d want to,” he said. But while those hotels that can offer their staff a place to live are still feeling the shortage, it’s the businesses who can’t that are truly suffering. Divers Tavern manager Corey James said they were forced to turn potential employees away because they can’t give them accommodation. “Our main issue is accommodation,” Mr James said. “People ask if we offer accommodation and we have to turn them away.” “We usually get 20 applications a week and now were only getting about three.” Mr James said most of his employees would stay at the Backpackers, but one of the few in Broome had recently closed. “The backpackers near us turned into an optometrist so there are no more there and the Cable Beach Backpackers are full up,” he said. “It’s also hard for the backpackers because they want to work but just can’t find anywhere to stay.” The lack of accommodation is creating a bad image of Broome for backpackers, according to Town Beach Cafe owner Amy Risinger. “Broome’s got a bit of a bad rap on some of the backpacking websites and things. A lot of them haven’t wanted to come here because of... accommodation,” Ms Risinger said. For Town Beach Cafe, it is near-impossible to offer staff housing due to leasing issues. “We’re in a bit of a different situation,” said Ms Risinger. “Our lease was going to be an 18-month lease. If we’d have known we would have been offered another two years on top of that we would have purchased accommodation.” “Our experience with the Shire of Broome has been that it’s becoming a year-by-year thing. So there’s absolutely no possibility to invest in accommodation when we don’t know our future.” Town Beach Cafe currently operates five days a week and while Ms Risinger said she would love to expand the hours, the staff shortage meant it was impossible. Small business owners like Oasis Eatery’s Jeff and Margaret Wovodich have even been forced to work overtime themselves. “I’m doing seven days a week and Margaret is working from 12 o’clock at night until bloody five in the afternoon,” Mr Wovodich said. “We used to do a lot of catering work as well but we can’t now because we just don’t have the staff.” Mrs Wovodich said the eatery had recently had to close its doors some days when no staff were available to man the front of the shop. “It’s the first year ever that we’ve had to close our doors, last week we closed on Friday and Monday,” she said. “The doors might be shut but we’re in here doing prep work to make sure we can keep going the next couple of days.” The business has six of the 10 staff they require to operate full hours. Mr Wovodich said it was also hard to compete with some of the bigger operators in town that could offer staff a place to stay. “They (the workers) have got nowhere to stay and the resorts are offering more money and a place to stay,” he said. “We lost a couple of ladies to Zanders because they were paying for their accommodation and we can’t do that. “It makes it harder for the smaller businesses like us.” The couple said they used to get a lot of workers from The Last Resort backpackers that had recently shutdown. “The past year or two we can’t find bakers or pastry chefs, they’re like hen’s teeth - you can’t find them,” Mr Wovodich said. “They (backpackers) want to work but there is no accommodation and it’s not just in the Kimberley it’s everywhere,” Mrs Wovodich said. However, there was hope, said Mr Taylor. “The backpackers will return. We will continue to attract people to live and work,” he said. It comes after a BCCI survey released in April revealed there were more than 500 job vacancies in town and just 200 beds available, mostly in dorm or backpacker settings.