Post-lockdown CBD activation challenge as Fri-YAY becomes Fri-NAY

The Property Council of Australia’s latest office occupancy survey has highlighted the vast fluctuation in workers entering the CBD across the working week, underscoring a need for increased efforts to reactivate CBDs across the state in a post-lockdown recovery.

Acting NSW Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia Lauren Conceicao today highlighted the positive trajectory that Sydney had been on this year, with an increase in occupancy (compared to pre-COVID levels) from 54 percent in January to 68 percent in May.

“The increased confidence in the safety of our offices, the slow but steady confidence in public transport, and the human desire to reengage with our peers for both collaboration and social connection has driven the steady growth,” said Ms Conceicao.

However, the monthly survey of office building owners and managers, taken before the lockdowns of the past week, showed a nervousness in Sydney for the first time this year as COVID cases began to increase across the state, and a mask mandate was introduced in offices for the first time.

“Prior to this current lockdown period our CBD, the heart of the NSW economy and the engine room of our state, saw an enviable 13 months without the need for a lockdown” said Ms Conceicao. Building owners and employers across the city have been innovating in order to entice workers back to the city, with State Government and the City of Sydney consistently backing the need to invest in reactivating Sydney’s CBD.

Experiences shows lockdowns, such as the recent Melbourne example, show significant impact on the positive growth trajectory and confidence in returning to the CBD. Melbourne’s occupancy figures show a reduction from 45 percent to 26 percent between May and June and we also anticipate Sydney occupancy to be affected.

The announcement in the recent NSW State Budget promising $100 dining vouchers for Fridays in the CBD was a welcome focus for Fridays, traditionally the highest yielding day for retail and hospitality. Friday activation campaigns, such as those championed by the Property Council interstate including Brisbane’s Friday’s in the City have seen an estimated 12.5% increase in foot traffic.

Worker preferences for greater flexibility create a unique challenge for city activation, with occupancy reaching less than 50 percent of pre-COVID figures on low days, typically Mondays and Fridays.

“The peaks and troughs in attendance of our city workers requires creative, inspiring solutions. A CBD activation taskforce comprised of the key industries would enhance the government’s capacity to plan for progressive activation, and react quickly to challenges,” said Ms Conceicao. The Property Council, supported by a range of industry groups, called for formation of a CBD activation taskforce as part its CBD activation priorities.

Peak and low day level of occupancy in office buildings

Office occupancy as a percentage of pre-COVID levels by CBD

Figures are based on responses from Property Council members who own or manage CBD office buildings and cover occupancy for the period from 21-23 June 2021.

NOTE: The Property Council’s CBD office occupancy data is now presented as a percentage of the pre-COVID rate of office occupancy, which is estimated at 90%. If a CBD achieves the same level of occupancy as the pre-COVID norm this will now be presented as “100%”.

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