A post-COVID employee drought has forced some south-west hospitality venues to close or scale-back the days they are open with some even closing on what would be busy weekends.
Despite advertising for employees, the staff shortage has meant Alexo Pizza in Port Fairy sometimes only opens five days a week instead of six.
Neighbouring business Le Crepe Man of Belfast owner Mark Price tells a similar story and said because the lack of staff he now only opened five days a week.
The reason for the shortage is a perfect storm of factors they say with COVID lockdowns being just one.
Both business owners say the soaring cost of rent and the growing number of holiday houses has made living in the town no longer affordable for workers.
It's something that is happening at other popular holiday spots across the country.
Alex Hutabarat, who runs Alexo Pizza, called on governments and councils to come up with a solution for more affordable housing.
"A lot of them are being forced out because there is no where to live. Over half the beds in Port Fairy are rental," Mr Price said.
A lot of hospitality workers have also walked away from the industry because seven lockdowns took its toll on job security.
Mr Hutabarat said he traditionally employed four or five staff on working holiday visas but since the pandemic they had returned home.
He had been hopeful they would start to return this week, but with the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus and the international borders again being slammed shut, it had created even more uncertainty.
Mr Hutabarat said he was sometimes opening fewer days so he could ensure that he had enough staff.
"It's better to close than have angry customers upset that the pizza is no good or taking too long," he said.
Staff shortages had been a problem for the best part of a year, but Mr Hutabarat said the last six months were worse. He has even offered petrol money to attract workers from Warrnambool, but to no avail.
With the costs of renting going up as much as 30 to 40 per cent in Port Fairy in recent years, he said it had become impossible for young people to rent.
"With the booming of real estate, all the investors come and turn it into holiday houses, and now we're realising no one can work here and businesses will shut one by one. It will happen if they have no where to live," he said.
Mr Hutabarat sends some of the profits from his business back to Indonesia where he runs schools for children in remote areas.
While COVID has closed schools there for almost two years, he has still been paying the teachers who do their best to cater for the students who have poor internet access and are forced to share mobile phones to do their school work.
"Imagine just a cheap phone for online learning. Some kids, because it is a remote area, have to climb high into the hills to get service," he said.
Mr Price said the shortage of workers was not unique to Port Fairy but was affecting holiday towns all over Australia.
"That's just one factor. People have left the industry because you never know when the next lockdown is around the corner. Everyone has done what they've had to survive and this industry isn't going to serve them."
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Mr Price said businesses were "stuck between a rock and a hard place".
He said everyone was adverting for staff, but people were now offering to work for $60 to $70 an hour. "We've all heard those stories," Mr Price said.
He said that either they started charging double for food and drink to compensate staff for the high cost of renting in the town, or people would start to realise that "it's great to have a rental, but no one is going to be open".
"We're not going to be here seven days when people feel like wandering in," he said.
"In the next four weeks there's going to be 10,000 people here, and we need double the staff.
"So you've got this calamity about to happen."
Mr Price said there was plenty of work available. "There's certainly a massive shortage of labour," he said.
"People need to prepare for the fact they won't get what they want, and we apologize for that."
Frank Donnelly, who owns a pizza shop in Koroit and a restaurant in Renmark, said they would open seven days a week if they could get staff after recently having to even close on the weekends.
He said in the past he had walked up and down the mall in Melbourne with a sign looking for staff.
"I was embarrassed doing it," he said.
Mr Donnelly said that in order to attract staff to one of his businesses in recent months, he ended up paying the $7000 in costs to help one get permanent residency.
"It's a hard game to be in at the moment," he said. "Gee it's hard to get staff."
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