Workers and customers at downtown Winnipeg businesses show signs of returning, but remain far from levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.
Using data collected from cellphones, the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Area has tracked the number of visitors to downtown Winnipeg each day. Over the past three months, the average number of daily visits each week has increased from 87,661 in the week ending January 9 to 124,573 in the week ending April 3, an increase of 41%.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on downtown Winnipeg’s economy, but even as the public health orders that forced many businesses to close have ended, many workers who supported those businesses are not still come back.
In a survey conducted by Probe Research from March 9-21, responses indicated a steady increase in the number of pre-pandemic downtown workers returning full-time, from 18% in December 2020 to 28% in March. 2022.
Downtown BIZ spokeswoman Pamela Hardman says she’s encouraged by the numbers.
“It’s pretty comparable to other cities in Canada,” she said.
Yet the vast majority of respondents said they currently work from home full-time (33%), work downtown part-time (19%) or no longer work (17%) .
Some signs could be improving, as two-thirds of people working from home said they expect to return to the office full-time or part-time. More than half of those expected to return by May at the latest.
Overall, two-thirds of those who worked downtown before the pandemic said they had or would soon return to work, at least part-time.
The 600 respondents in the sample completed the online survey. Some were recruited through a live operator, others through interactive voice response calls and some are members of Probe’s online panel. The survey has a four percent margin of error.
The long-term trend is also showing signs of improvement. Downtown visits were 30% higher in March 2022 than they were in the same month last year.
Make the city center attractive
Part of the challenge for the BIZ will be convincing workers that the downtown office is a better place than the home office.
“We’re working hard to put on events this summer and really create that momentum again and bring people back,” Hardman said.
Events like an expanded farmer’s market and a series of lunchtime concerts will hopefully attract workers, she said. There are other intangible benefits to working with other people.
“It’s the connection with their colleagues and that time in front again, and all the things you can find downtown that you can’t find anywhere else,” Hardman said.
This latest report shows signs of improvement over last year. According to a Downtown BIZ report published in July 2021, titled downtown stateapproximately 2,200 events took place downtown in 2019, resulting in 6.8 million visits.
Over 75% of events were canceled in 2020.
The cancellation and postponement of more than 100 national and international business conferences and major events has led to the loss of at least 56,000 people traveling to the city center, as well as 86,000 hotel nights and more of $59 million in planned spending, according to the report.
At that time, only 20% of the roughly 70,000 people who worked downtown before the pandemic had returned full-time.