Has Melbourne’s nightlife bounced back from COVID lockdowns?

March 21, 2024

Has one of Melbourne’s premier nighttime destinations bounced back after the COVID-19 outbreak? Let's find out using spatial data.

Situated on the southern bank of the Yarra River and extending to Crown Casino, Southbank Promenade and Southgate Restaurant and Shopping Precinct is one of Melbourne's major entertainment precincts.

Melbourne has suffered through more lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions than Australia’s other capitals, meaning the pandemic’s impact and the collective settling into a ‘new normal’ has been a lengthier and more tentative process for residents and businesses alike.

By analysing Planwisely’s People Movement Data to investigate movement activity and visitation patterns within Southbank – a key precinct of Melbourne’s nighttime economy – we can potentially get insights into how people’s behaviours have changed in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic.

Southbank is one of Melbourne's most prominent shopping and dining areas.

Southbank visitation analysis

To do so, we used Planwisely’s Length of Stay tool to analyse how long people were spending in Southbank’s restaurant and shopping precinct:

  • When they arrived after 6:00pm (and before 12:00am)
  • Comparing 2019 (pre-COVID) and 2023 calendar years
  • On weekdays, weekends and overall

So, let’s see how (or if) Southbank’s night-time visitation patterns have changed from 2019 to 2023.

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The findings

Looking at Length of Stay for both 2019 and 2023, it appears that visitation behaviours may have changed in Southbank’s shopping and dining precinct after the outbreak of COVID-19. Here’s a statistical snapshot of the analysis from Planwisely:

  • The proportion of visitors coming to the area at night has remained steady pre and post-pandemic, with around 30% of daily visitors arriving after 6:00pm in both 2019 and 2023
  • In contrast to this, the proportion of visitors staying 3 hours or more (out of those arriving after 6:00pm) has dipped from 26% (2019) to 12.7% (2023) – a comparative decline of over 50%
  • The largest drop was seen in the median length of stay, which fell by 60% from 2019 (66 minutes) to 2023 (27 minutes)
  • The day of the week appears to have minimal effect on length of stay in Southbank, with people staying for only a few minutes more on the weekends than they do on weekdays
Melbourne's nighttime activity seems to be changing in a post-lockdown world.

These data points highlight some significant shifts in visitation to Southbank, which could point to behavioural changes brought on by the pandemic and its long tail. It is interesting to note that, while the proportion of visitors arriving in the evening and night remained steady, the data suggests that these days, people are spending far less time in Southbank after dark than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. So, while a bounce back in night-time activity may be on the horizon, it hasn’t yet been forthcoming. In fact, the median length of stay has ‘stabilised’ in the past two years; it was 26 minutes in 2022 and 27 minutes in 2023 (compared to 66 minutes in 2019).

2019 Length of Stay2023 Length of Stay
A depiction of length of stay around Southbank in Melbourne, Victoria, with darker shades of blue representing more time spent in that location.

Time will tell if these changes become the ‘new normal’ or if they are a temporary phase as Melbourne and its population settle into a rhythm that’s yet to be determined. Regardless, these pronounced and persistent shifts in visitation point to ongoing behavioural changes linked to the COVID-19 pandemic – changes that continue to be felt far beyond its resultant lockdowns and restrictions.

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