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From when Covid-19 began in 2020, to the latest Omicron variant to plague the world, every step of the Covid journey has come with its own set of challenges.

As Victoria grappled with another pandemic-infested summer, RSL Sub-Branches in tourist hotspots at the opposite ends of the state share their experiences.

Learning to live with Covid has made for an interesting summer season for Victoria. Despite cases reaching a high of over 50,000 early in the new year, the state was emerging from many of its restrictions.

But Victorians were lingering in an unofficial lockdown of their own, in what has become known as a “shadow lockdown,” which has seen people voluntarily limit their movement.

It, as well as the other effects of the Omicron variant, have had significant impacts on multiple industries, including the tourism and the hospitality sectors.

While interstate travel became somewhat easier, for many it was still wrought with complications and fear, and overseas travel remained off the cards for most.

As a result, many Victorians holidayed in their backyards – they quite literally stayed home or sought a change of scenery in their own state.

Lakes Entrance RSL
Lakes Entrance RSL

The Lakes Entrance RSL owns and operates the 57 room Glenara Motel.

The Sub-Branch is also home to the Scallop Pot Bistro, which is known for its Asian and Australian cuisine, and can seat around 200 people.

Debbie Moore, Operations Manager of the Lakes Entrance RSL says they rely heavily on tourists over summer.

"The second week of January was probably when it [Omicron] had the most impact when we had to close our bistro because of staff infections."

Kim Archibald

As has been seen in the news for weeks, like many businesses, both sub-branches succumbed to Covid complications, including ongoing staffing challenges.

“I haven’t been able to get more staff so the causals that we’ve got are working overtime, full-time hours. It’s taking its toll,” says Debbie from Lakes Entrance.

Kim says Covid has decimated the hospitality industry, with crippling staff shortages due to outbreaks, on top of the already ongoing staff shortages impacting the region.

“We’ve got minimal staff and then you have Omicron arriving, which affected, or infected, staff and then we didn’t have enough staff as backups when required.”

Mildura RSL sought ways to alleviate the pressure.

"I’ve had to put in extra staff that are Covid marshals, up to an extra cost of $3,000 a week and extra duties, you know, making sure we’re cleaning all the time."

Mildura RSL
Mildura RSL

Debbie has worked in hospitality for more than 40 years and of those, 17 have been at this Sub-Branch. She says these are the hardest times she’s experienced.

"It’s been difficult with some patrons not wanting to wear their masks or show us their vaccination status."

The Omicron outbreak has also impacted supply chains, with a shortage of workers in key industries across the country as they either get the virus or isolate as a close contact.

As many have experienced, it’s resulted in often bare supermarket shelves, and other items hard to come by.

"I’ve had to actually try to double up on items because I’m frightened that we’re not going to get it, and there have been products that we haven’t been able to get."

Mildura RSL General Manager Kim Archibald
Mildura RSL General Manager Kim Archibald

“It’s just been food products that we’ve struggled with, so we’ve had to find alternatives to our menu,” says Kim.

On the plus side though, the taps have been flowing.

Our biggest fear was the supply of beer, but luckily that never eventuated

Fully stocked with ingredients and alcohol, now there’s a lack of customers.

For the first time ever, Debbie says it was a short-lived tourist season.

Mid-January, Lakes Entrance was also subject to a tsunami warning, following a volcanic eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai near Tonga Islands in the Pacific.

It could be argued that this may not have helped the tourist season.

“Everybody’s gone and our patronage has really dropped down, quicker than it normally does.”

She says they would usually be busy through to April and the motel would still be booked out.

"I’ve never seen a drop off like this and it’s because the locals will not come out, they’re too scared to come out."

"It is going to be difficult I can see for the next few months. We’ve got a long winter here. I don’t know what’s going to happen."

Debbie Moore

Kim, who has worked at the Mildura RSL for 33 years says it’s a frustrating situation, with the shadow lockdown coming at a cost.

“Patronage in the bistro has declined somewhat. It’s the 50 plus age bracket that is a bit more cautious, and numbers have dropped off.”

While there’s nothing more certain than the uncertainty that life with Covid brings, Kim remains upbeat and grateful for loyal customers.

"To try to budget in a world of Covid and to foresee what might lie ahead is just a really tough gig. But you’ve got to be positive. Tourism is important to us, but we have very good patronage from our large membership."

Kim Archibald