Rise of Airbnb changes fabric of Albany’s backpacking community

Michael TraillAlbany Advertiser
French backpacker Charlotte Poultry is working three jobs.
Camera IconFrench backpacker Charlotte Poultry is working three jobs. Credit: Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson

The rise of short-stay accommodation has changed the fabric of Albany’s backpacking community.

Backpacker establishments on the south coast are no longer jam-packed with tourists who party late into the night.

Instead, they are inhabited by early-rising seasonal workers toiling away to meet Canberra’s requirements for a second year on their working holiday visas.

To obtain a visa for a second year, international visitors must complete 88 days of “specified work” in regional Australia.

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The agriculture, construction, mining, fishing and plantation industries all fall under the Federal Government’s specified work areas.

One Albany industry insider, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the rise of Airbnb meant backpacker businesses now faced stiff competition for short-term visitors.

“There are plenty of Airbnbs out there now. We find that a lot of the tourists or short-term visitors stay at the Airbnbs and the seasonal workers come to the backpackers,” the insider said.

“You find with social media as well that with the influence of the internet and Airbnbs, people can quite easily find things online, whereas before it was all telephone conversations.

“We were really the only budget accommodation in Albany at one point, whereas now it’s all changed with the Airbnbs.”

“So we’ve seen a bit of a shift in the market, from the actual tourists themselves to the seasonal workers. The trend has just completely changed.”

To attract guests, the industry insider connects backpackers with work before they arrive.

Working visitors making their way across WA will often get in touch with backpacker businesses to inquire about jobs.

“They’ll email me to say ‘look, is there any work going?’, and if there is then obviously I would let them know that there is work and they can stay with us,” the insider said.

“If not, they can make up their mind whether they want to come and stay with us or move to another town where there is work.”

One backpacker seeking work in Albany is Sylvain Garadies.

Backpacker Sylvain Gardies.
Camera IconBackpacker Sylvain Gardies. Credit: Laurie Benson/Pictures: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Fed up with his engineering office job in Paris, the Frenchman quit and started travelling around Australia 14 months ago.

“I was at the computer all day, there was no adventure,” Mr Garadies said.

On his second year of a working holiday visa, the 27-year-old is aiming for a third, which will require six months of specified work in regional Australia.

After making his way across Australia’s east coast and red centre, often working at Fletcher International Exports abattoirs, Mr Garadies headed for WA’s south coast to work on fishing boats.

His adventure took a turn for the worse when a bout of sickness meant he had to be rushed from Bremer Bay to Albany Regional Hospital, where he stayed for 10 days.

Now, the former engineer is again looking for work to fulfil Canberra’s requirements for another year Down Under.

Albany’s rugged coastline and other natural attractions have persuaded him to stay put.

“I want to live in Albany. The nature is good, the weather is perfect,” he said.

If he has no luck finding work in the Great Southern, Mr Garadies will have a go in the Goldfields’ mining industry.

Another French national who can be found in Albany’s 1849 Backpackers is Charlotte Poultry.

Working three jobs, including at the backpackers itself, Ms Poultry arrived in Australia in September after travelling through Vietnam.

The 30-year-old said French and South Koreans were the two biggest groups of foreign visitors in Albany’s backpacking community. Work and a quiet country lifestyle kept people here.

“Mostly we stay here because we’ve found a job with Fletchers (International Exports),” she said.

But there were downsides to life as a backpacker in Albany.

“You’ve got the worst nightclub here,” Ms Poultry said.

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