London’s West End continues to see footfall recovering with figures from the trade body that represents businesses in the neighbourhood – the New West End Company (NWEC) – saying that the steady return of office workers is a key factor.
Visitor traffic to streets such as Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street continued to improve as August progressed with the first week of the month seeing footfall down 51% compared to the same week in 2019, but the shortfall only being 39% by the final week of the month.
A 12 percentage point improvement in footfall between the first and last weeks in August was a significant uplift, especially given the relatively slow recovery that has been seen for most of this year.
And the improvement also comes as NWEC has conducted a survey of around 1,000 people showing that 91% of them want to return to the office in some capacity with the biggest driver being that they’re missing the social aspects of working in an office. Younger people are feeling this the most, With 95% of respondents saying they want to return full time or part time.
London’s West End – and major city centres across the UK – are heavily dependent on international and domestic tourism, the former of which hasn’t yet recovered to anywhere near 2019 levels. But they also rely on a large stream of workers at local businesses patronising their stores, something that hasn’t happened much in the last 18 months.
And of course, what they’re returning to is in some ways a very different area than it was pre-pandemic. Oxford Street has been particularly hard hit by the impact of the Covid crisis and many of what were its destination stores have now closed. Examples include the Debenhams department store, the Topshop flagship and the Gap flagship. One of the major Zara stores on Oxford Street has also closed and the number of empty spaces on what was Europe’s busiest shopping street before the pandemic is a major disincentive to shop there.
Jace Tyrrell, NWEC Chief Executive of New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and in Mayfair said: “An increasing number of office workers are beginning to return to the West End now that restrictions have been lifted, but we need more businesses to heed the wishes of their employees in order to stimulate the capital’s recovery.
“The last 18 months have undoubtedly forever changed the environments in which people work, but more must be done to encourage workers to return in some capacity. Whether it leads to a quick trip to the shops or a long-overdue lunch with colleagues, every returning office worker will play a vital role in the high street and economy’s recovery. We are already seeing a steady rise in customer footfall, up 8% last week compared with 3% at the beginning of August, but it’s time that the corporate world started to match this increasing consumer confidence. Only then will we see the return of a typically-vibrant, profitable and exciting West End.”
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