The effects of Covid- 19 have been felt worldwide; a health care crisis and halt to daily life of which we are still feeling the shockwaves. Using the City of London and the West End as case studies, we investigated the impact Covid has had on urban areas in Central London. Partnering up recently with Experian, we have been able to incorporate their MOSAIC demographic data with VI’s geolocation data all within our Terain platform.

We compared two time periods, H1 2019 and H1 2022, to investigate the visitor dynamics across the City of London and the West End, to ultimately understand what has changed after COVID-19 and provide insights to inform retailers, developers, and local government.

Initially, we investigated commuting patterns. We found that both sites had experienced an increase in the average percentage share of people using public transport. The City had a 28% increase in bus passengers and a 10 % increase in rail. Overall, there was a 18 % reduction in the share of people driving into the City (possible correlation with the uptick in public transport use, along with similar a 15% decrease of passengers in a car/van). Similarly, the share of people walking, and cycling increased by 18% and 19% respectively, while taxi usage up ticked by 16% pointing towards growing use of gig-economy operators like Uber and Bolt (although taxi only made up 0.6% of total journeys).  

The West End displayed a similar pattern, however, driving remained the most popular mode of transport (32.7% of all journeys). Public transport usage increased significantly (23% increase), bringing with it the benefits of reduced pollution from car emissions. It is possible that the introduction of the ultra-low- emission zone brought in April of 2019 and improvements to public transport links such as the new Elizabeth line, may have contributed to the jump in public transport use.

Lastly a surprise in our data – there was no notable change in the percentage of homeworkers, in the West End over the two period. In contrast the City had a 9% decrease in homeworking! This may be due to more people working in professions that are unable to be done from home such as construction, in retail, F&B or the theatre. Perhaps an indicator that the urban environment is creeping back to life?

Analysing the visitors’ demographics, age, income, and segmentation, using Experian’s MOSAIC data, we found that the average percentage of ‘elderly’ visitor (55+) groups decreased across both locations. The percentage change of teenage and millennial visitors (15- 34) to the City increased slightly by 5%, as opposed to the West End which experienced no notable change. For both areas, before and after COVID, children (0-14 years) and millennials (25- 34 years) represented the greatest share of all visitors.

The disposable income distribution of visitors to the two locations also differed over the pre and post Covid periods. The City experienced a 23% increase in visitors in the lowest bracket (<£30 a month), and further, the percentage of visitors from the second lowest bracket (£30-£124) also increased. Visitors from all groups above these brackets (>£124) decreased their share of visits.

The West End however experienced no significant change, with the wealthier groups continuing to represent a far greater percentage of visitors compared to The City. An explanation for the decrease in wealthier visitors to The City could be rising cost of living and inflation leaving more households with less disposable income and more conscious of how they spend their money. The West End, on the other hand, may not have experienced this as it still is a global shopping and leisure destination. Shoppers may be making concerted trips for pre-planned purchases and/or to socialise, eat and drink; proving its resilience in the face of economic headwinds.

Our new Visitor Segmentation data, that uses Experian’s MOSAIC classification structure, gives detailed insights into the UK’s socio-economic structure. In the City, the proportion of the Country Living segment decreased by half, as did the Rural Reality (-46%), although neither group represents a sizeable proportion of visitors. The Municipal Tenants category rose by 60 % – becoming the second most common segment, just after city prosperity (+15%), making up almost a quarter of all visitors for H1 2022. The analysis suggests that there are fewer rural dwellers visiting urban centres post-Covid. While the increase in Municipal Tenants represents a stake rise in low income, densely populated flat dwellers, working and living in the central of London.

The West End also experienced a drop in Country Living (-49%) and Rural Reality (-43%) visitor, with the Transient Renters group decreasing by 30%. Similarly, Municipal Tenants increased by 27%, as did family basics (+25%), and City Prosperity (+11%); which remained the largest group with a 31.4 % share. Again, there was a less notable change in demographics for the West End suggesting a higher degree of inelasticity.

One surprising result from the data shows Transient Renters decreasing by almost a third in both areas, this is the segment encompassing millennials – a group typically assumed to over-index in urban areas. One suggestion for their drop in representation is the rise in cost of living. It is possible that a combination of factors are at play. Gentrification could also be playing a role pricing out millennials and pushing them to areas further from the CBDs. Demography could also be playing a role with these groups – ageing, settling down and starting families, the cost of children, the need for more space and their lack of free time could result in them visiting areas closer to home or indeed staying at home more frequently utilising local workplaces, social areas and retail centres. This correlates closely with trends seen during the pandemic with both the mass emigration to the suburbs by millennials and the rise in local retail areas.

Visitor Insights Terrain platform found that monthly footfall fell in both areas in the first half of 2022 compared to same period in 2019 by c.50%. The percentage decrease was greatest in The City (-55%), however the City’s number of average monthly visitors far exceeded that of the West End. Across both areas the people classed as workers rose. (in the West End by 142%!) The number of national visitors in H1 2022 also fell by around half compared to 2019 in both areas, but remained the greatest proportion of visitors; while overseas visitors dropped by the most, a reduction of 81% in both areas

It would seem both areas have experienced huge reductions in footfall due to the dramatic reduction in overseas and national travellers. The City has changed quite drastically in terms of who  visits with a large decline in wealthy elderly groups, whilst the West End seems to have recovered far better. Our data echoes findings by the West End based Real Estate firm Shaftesbury, who have also found that the West End has recovered far better than the City.

By Conor Perry