The COVID-19 Effect on Downtown Visitation

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By Joshua Long, Data Program Director

One of the most common requests for information over the past year is a measure of the demand for Downtown services, retail, hospitality, etc., throughout the pandemic and as we recover. Basically, what everyone wants to know is how has the pandemic affected number of visits to Downtown Detroit and when will we return to normal.

Now that we are more than halfway through 2021, we can begin to answer the first question using data. Anonymous location data from smart phone apps is used to determine where those smart phones have visited throughout the day. While just a sample is used to develop these data, statistical methods are applied to make an accurate estimate of the overall population – similar to how Nielsen Holdings Inc. uses a sample of the population to provide insights and data about what people watch on television.

In 2019, before COVID-19 hit Detroit, there were between approximately 86,000 and 105,000 daily visits to Downtown Detroit. This number does not include people that work in Downtown or live in Downtown (those people are included in another bucket of data).

A public health emergency was declared on March 10, 2020. That same month, the average number of daily visits fell to 44,541. By April, there were only 6,843 average daily visits Downtown. The graph below shows the average number of visits per day by month for 2019 through the first half of 2021.

While there was a gradual increase in visits through the summer of 2020, the numbers were still less than half of those during the lowest months of 2019.

In 2021, as the COVID vaccine became widely available, the number of daily visits steadily increased month to month throughout the spring. By June of this year there were over 62,000 average daily visits, the most since February of 2020. Still, that represents 40% fewer visits than June 2019.

Overall, the trend is positive and daily visits are expected to continue to increase. Hopefully this trend continues without interruption as we return quickly to pre-pandemic levels. The Downtown Detroit Partnership and the Downtown Detroit Business Improvement Zone will continue to monitor these numbers and report on progress.

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