The CBD is bouncing back from COVID restrictions

Since the easing of COVID restrictions earlier this year, there has been new life breathed back into the CBD – and these are the numbers to prove it.

Aug 01, 2022, updated Aug 01, 2022
Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

A positive shift in behaviour is being reflected across the city with increased dwell time, retail spending, hospitality spending, parking visitation, residential occupancy and accommodation.

After more than two years of pandemic pauses and navigating restrictions, CBD traders are cautiously breathing a sigh of relief as foot traffic increases – but now isn’t the time to take those feet off the pedal, business advocates warn.

Rundle Mall Executive Manager Andrew White said there has been an upwards shift in shopping behaviour in Rundle Mall over the last few months compared to visitation during the height of the pandemic.

“Dwell time has been increasing and in June rose 30 per cent compared to the same time in 2021,” White said.

“This suggests shoppers are spending more time exploring Rundle Mall, visiting various stores, enjoying the various events and activations, and enjoying a day out.

“That’s a marked shift from 2021 when we saw shoppers being very intentional, visiting fewer locations to limit their interactions and then leaving.”

White said South Australia’s retail spending is growing faster than anywhere else in the country, reaching $2.1 billion in May.

Business SA CEO Andrew Kay said the CBD has borne the brunt of small business interruption during the pandemic, but now’s the time to recover.

“These business owners rely on the traffic generated by office workers and as we face challenging trading conditions, supporting the local economy is more important than ever,” Kay said.

It’s important as we learn to live with COVID that people continue to work, eat and shop in the city centre.

Minister for Small and Family Business Andrea Michaels said while the city is in recovery phase, people must continue to return to the city, especially to support small businesses.

It is why the Government of South Australia has recently launched a Support Small Business campaign to highlight just how these businesses are important contributors to the state’s economy and employment growth.

“More than 145,000 small businesses play a critical role in South Australia’s economy and our society – creating jobs, supporting families and contributing to local communities,” Minister Michaels said.

“Small but important decisions by all South Australians will help deliver big results for these businesses and will help the state bounce back.”

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said after two challenging years of COVID-19 impacts, it is great to see the city is continuing to bounce back.

“Moving around the city, I see line ups at our popular eateries, shops in Rundle Mall are busy and our streets are humming with activity again,” she said.

Foot traffic was particularly strong across the CBD through March coinciding with festival season and the easing of most restrictions – including the removal of QR codes, density restrictions in hospitality venues and the need to wear face masks in bars, restaurants, shops and public spaces.

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While naturally the numbers are expected to have decreased since the Mad March peak, that month also saw a positive increase in activity in retail, hospitality and event precincts in the East End, Hutt Street, Market Precinct, Hindley Street, O’Connell Street and Rundle Mall, based on device sensor data in February and March 2022.

Festival season predominantly brought more activity to the city’s east with a significant rebound of around 30 per cent in Rundle Mall and 40 per cent in East End compared to January values.

According to the Adelaide City Council, both on-street and off-street UPark parking visitation across the CBD has been steadily increasing month on month since February.

Following this upward trend, office occupancy rates in Adelaide are reflecting the highest in the country supporting a growing consumer and investor confidence.

Also, since January 2022, the residential vacancy rates reached pre-COVID levels for Adelaide and North Adelaide, according to data from SQM Research.

Adelaide CBD reached 1.4 per cent vacancy in March, below the 3.2 per cent in March 2020.

Adelaide Economic Development Agency (AEDA) Managing Director Ian Hill said a range of initiatives have been underway this year to stimulate the CBD economy and attract consumers into the city which have been effective.

AHA SA General Manager Ian Horne said while hotel occupancy has been on the increase, it is important to continue this upward trend.

“The CBD is the heart of the state – it’s our gateway to South Australia,” Horne said.

“Vibrancy in the city is so important, but it’s not just about people having a good time; vibrancy leads to business activity, which leads to jobs, which leads to investment.

“That’s why maintaining, building and encouraging people into the CBD is so important – the whole focus of the state is the city.”

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