South Melbourne Market COVID-19 impacts and recovery

Posted March 16, 2021

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SGS Economics and Planning D Spark South Melbourne Market article2

New anonymised mobility insights data shows the number of visitors and how they access the South Melbourne Market changed significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown. Some of these trends are yet to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

South Melbourne Market is a prized community asset

South Melbourne Market (The Market) has a treasured role in the civic life of Melbourne. The Market has evolved over 150 years from its early role as a traditional produce market to provide a distinct retail offer including a range of fresh fruit, vegetable, meat, seafood and other grocery produce, as well as arts, crafts and fashion, accessories and home décor.

Over more recent years, The Market has expanded to host seasonal celebrations, festivals and events, including night events with live music and a range of street food and other community services such as pop up bike repairs. This curated mix of uses makes an important contribution to the local economy by drawing visitors from across the city and beyond.

The Market anchors a vibrant and mixed use precinct

The Market’s inner-urban precinct also hosts many retail, restaurants, cafes, bars and community activities. A light rail station nearby and a network of dedicated bike lanes connect the site to the inner city and inner eastern suburbs. However, there is still strong demand for car parking from private vehicles continues to dominate the local streets. As a high visitation destination, one of the challenges facing The Market is managing pedestrian crowding both in and around the market.

The Market has a unique role in supporting the community and economy as part of the recovery from the effects of COVID-19

The Market offering and potential market catchment were significantly affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne between August and October 2020. Restrictions on trading meant that while food and produce stalls remained open, the merchandise stalls were closed, and hospitality outlets provided takeaway services only. Melbourne residents were only permitted to travel up to five kilometres from home, which limited many regular customers access to The Market.

It is important for future planning and management to consider the effects these restrictions had on market activities and how The Market is recovering post lockdown. It is also important to understand how The Market’s visitation changed during and since lockdown – including understanding who visits, where they come from, how long they spend there and how they get there.

Attempting to answer these questions using traditional precinct analysis is limited. Using anonymised mobility insights data (developed by DSpark), it is now possible to have these answered in a timely way.

New data sources can help understand how COVID-19 affected The Market and what this could mean for recovery

Planning and managing local precincts and places often involve traditional data capture methods such as traffic counters, surveys, and relevant statistical data such as the ABS five yearly census of population and housing. While these methods can effectively capture a narrow range of localised insights, they each come with drawbacks: they can be expensive, cumbersome, time lagged, or insufficient. The lack of up to date, local data means that analysis is often delayed and involves many assumptions.

SGS and D-Spark have collaborated to analyse anonymised mobility insights data to uncover insights and identify policy implications of changes to activity levels at the South Melbourne Market.

DSpark are leaders in processing large geo-spatial temporal mobility data to deliver intelligence on people and places.

DSpark takes anonymised mobile cellular tower and GPS data, public transport data, road network data, immigration data and census data and transforms it into longitudinal insights with population movement patterns. The data represents the Australian adult population and includes key demographic characteristics as well as mode of transport. Understanding how people move, where they go and what they do enables organisations such as Transport For NSW, City of Gold Coast and City of Melbourne map their strategies around where people live work, and play.

The data for The Market captures visitation over one week during each of these five points in time that reflect before, during, and post COVID-19 periods:

  • August 2019 (pre-COVID-19)
  • August 2020 (during lockdown)
  • November 2020 (post lockdown)
  • January 2021 (recovery)
  • Mid-February 2021 (5-day snap lockdown)

The data sets can be manipulated to address specific questions and issues. In this case, as well as overall visitor numbers, we applied the following filters:

  • Visitors are defined as anyone who lives outside the Precinct and has entered the Precinct SA1 (which contains The Market) for longer than 15 minutes, during Market opening hours
  • It excludes visitors who have ventured into the Woolworths building located close to The Market.

During the initial COVID-19 lockdown, general activity trends changed and are yet to return to previous levels

The DSpark data finds that pre-COVID-19, the precinct was attracting over 152,000 unique individuals per week, predominantly on Saturdays and Sundays. The remaining weekdays (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday) are non-market days, and while some hospitality premises near The Market are open on these days, general activity levels within the precinct are 25 per cent lower than the weekend rate.

The data shows that general activity during lockdown was around 40-50 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 levels. Since January 2021, activity numbers have remained around 20-30 per cent lower. Notably, activity peaked on Wednesday and was lower on the weekend. This result is different from pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 periods, where activity was greater over the weekend. This could be due to:

  • During the lockdown, people were visiting mid-week either to avoid any perceived weekend crowds
  • A greater number of people working from home in the local surrounding catchment could access the Market at more flexible times during the week. A trip to the markets could have been a mid-week escape to visit during the extended lockdown
  • Immediately post lockdown, weekend activity increased dramatically, suggesting people were re-discovering their treasured activities and destinations. This is also reflected in the immediate expansion to the catchment in this period. The January 2021 data suggests that activity levels is yet to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

The home location of visitors changed during COVID-19

The Market has traditionally acted as a key metropolitan tourist attraction; visitors travelled to the markets from across the metro area and beyond, drawing visitors from as far as Echuca, Shepparton, Daylesford, Castlemaine, Ballarat, Lorne and to the Mornington Peninsula and beyond. This does not necessarily mean that these visitors were exclusively visiting The Market, but it does show The Market is an attraction for regional Victoria visitors.

As seen in the visualisation, the visitor catchment shrunk markedly during the lockdown period, reflecting the five kilometre travel restrictions imposed. Following the lockdown, The Market’s catchment expanded. And it is now slowly returning to pre COVID-19 lockdown levels. The level of international visitation reduced dramatically during COVID-19.

The DSpark data allows the ability to segment visitors to understand users from intra-state, inter-state, international residents. Pre-COVID-19, the largest visitor cohort was international tourists, with close to 4,000 unique visitors entering The Market precinct during a one week period. This was followed closely by locals from Southbank and Port of Melbourne, each with around 3,500 unique visitors before gradual decreases in adjacent suburbs. During lockdown, unique international visitation decreased substantially. Currently, international visitation remains down by around 94 per cent, not making up the top 10 segments of visitors to the Market. This is expected given national border restrictions that are still in place.

COVID-19 also changed the way people get to The Market

Transport and access is a key issue in and around the precinct, with the area experiencing high levels of car use, congestion and constrained car parking during peak periods. The nearby tram provides an opportunity to help address this accessibility challenge. The new data provides a better understanding of how people travel to The Market and can inform future planning:

  • Car travel remains by far the dominant mode of access (around 61 per cent of trips). This is an increase from pre-COVID-19 and during the lockdown, perhaps reflecting personal safety concerns associated with public transport use.
  • Public transport originally contributed to around 16 per cent of trips and dropped to 11 per cent during the lockdown and 13 per cent post-lockdown.
  • Walking has returned predominantly to pre-COVID-19 levels, making up around 21 per cent of trips. During the lockdown, however, walking reached around 28 per cent of trips which reflects the local lockdown restrictions and with visits potentially being tied in with walking as a form of daily recreation.

Topics to explore

The number of visitors and how they access The Market changed significantly during COVID-19. Some of these trends are yet to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. As The Market continues to be a popular destination, anonymised mobility insights data can provide deep and timely information about how it continues to be used by the community.

Topics that could be explored using mobility data in the future:

  • how visitation evolves over the day (e.g. morning, lunchtime, afternoon, evening) on different days
  • the impact of one-off events on visitation to the precinct, and the characteristics of those visitors
  • the role of The Market in drawing in visitors to the hospitality precinct and nearby Clarendon Street by comparing visitation to those areas on market and non market days
  • the impact of changes to surrounding transport and traffic management (i.e. closing off streets to vehicles) on how people choose to travel to The Market
  • delving deeper into the catchment profile, including analysing demographics, if/ how that changed post COVID-19 and during the week including where people are travelling from.

Mobility insights could also be used to further support planning for recovery by measuring changes over the medium term and the impact of specific marketing campaigns. This could inform the planning and investment by traders and local government in and around the precinct.

For more information on this new collaboration, including how it could be applied to your project or policy question, please contact Julian Szafraniec.

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Julian Szafraniec

National Leader for Data & Spatial Analysis | Principal & Partner I Executive Director

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