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CBD spending recovery underway, says CommBank

Consumer spending across Australia’s central business districts has grown 22.4 per cent in the last six months, with workers slowly returning to workplaces following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

According to data from Commonwealth Bank, Gen X and older millennials aged between 35-49 led this spending increase across most CBDs, though Sydney and Melbourne saw spending growth mainly from younger millennials.

This spending, recorded between September 2020 and February 2021, is compared to March to August 2020 – a period when most CBDs were effectively ghost towns due to the stay-at-home orders issued across the country.

“We’re encouraged to see spending in our CBDs on the up, and we hope to see this trend continue as more people start coming back into city centres more regularly,” said Commonwealth Bank executive general manager of small business Claire Roberts.

“Small businesses in CBD areas have had it really tough over the past year but we’re seeing encouraging signs of recovery.”

The growth wasn’t even across the country’s cities, however. Perth led the way, with spending up 33.7 per cent, while Sydney sat in the middle of the pack at 21.5 per cent. Melbourne, still yet to recover from the longest lockdown period across the country, recorded just 2.36 per cent growth.

And while this growth is likely welcome, the fact it is rising off an effectively nil base means CBD retailers are not exactly out of the woods.

“Our CBDs are not the thriving places they once were pre-Covid, and we need innovative ways to get people back supporting these hard-hit businesses,” said ARA chief executive Paul Zahra last month, when welcoming the City of Sydney’s hotel voucher scheme.

“The office occupancy rate in the Sydney CBD is less than 50 per cent. It means there aren’t as many people doing the things they would be normally, like grabbing a coffee from a nearby cafe, shopping during their lunch break, or having dinner and drinks in the city after work.”

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