Covid has transformed the way consumers engage with space and will continue to do so because of a long-lasting impact of the virus on mobility, MCA’s Food to Go Conference has heard.

Chris Thompson, of marketing, technology and data specialist CACI, said restrictions in movement had reframed how people engaged with physical space, meaning hospitality businesses needed to consider where customers would be, not where they had been.

“There has been a shift away from larger urban areas into local areas and brands need to understand this and shift their estates accordingly.”

The rise of localism was here to stay, Thompson said, and businesses should try to leverage this.

“The way we move around has also changed indefinitely and spaces need to adapt to be able to cope with this.”

Linked closely to this was the working from home revolution. About two to three days a week was the most people wanted to spend working in the office.

People expected the office to be for collaboration and home for focus so this dynamic would flatten daytime spend away from cities and back to suburbs.

Retail in cities would evolve from grab and go to more engaged socialising while the suburbs would see more daytime engagement.

“If you change the way people engage with space you change the use of space and therefore the value of space,” he said.

Managed spaces, in times of limited restrictions, had capitalised on those seeking a safer experience at the expense of city centres and transport hubs.

Rural towns returned to pre-pandemic levels in August and local centres and local high streets had been the “real winners” over the past 12 months.

Thompson said age and affluence had played a key role in driving mobility. “So while money used to buy freedom of movement, we now feel it buys freedom to stay still.”

Affluent groups remained the least mobile as many continued to work from home while key workers often did not have the same luxury.

However, Thompson said the rollout of the vaccine programme had made many feel more comfortable about going out and engaging with their local area.

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