Reopening Melbourne: COVID-19 concerns will keep Melburnians at home as restrictions start to ease

Seven months of restrictions and lockdown will have a lasting impact on Melburnians, with up to 50% saying dining out and recreational activities, including sporting events and going to the movies, will be attended less often due to financial concerns and a fear of spreading or catching COVID-19.

A new report from the leading strategic insights company Nature has revealed that although restrictions look set to be eased, financial and COVID-19 concerns will stop many Melburnians from going to restaurants and pubs, attending sporting events, going to concerts, and visiting cinemas, museums, galleries, libraries and community centres.

Nature Managing Partner, Chris Crook, said the “Reopening Melbourne” report found only 20% of Melburnians are planning to take part in activities more often than they had before COVID-19, driven by wanting to be active in their community, see friends and support local businesses.

“Some Melburnians are very keen to get back to pubs, cafes, restaurants, concerts, sporting events and so on – and keen to start supporting businesses that have been hit hard by the lockdown – but they are definitely in the minority,” Dr Crook said.

“For most, concerns about their health and financial security will largely keep them at home as restrictions start to ease. Some people say they can’t afford to go out, while others want to save money. Some also don’t believe businesses will be able to maintain social distancing.”

The research found clear differences by age. While 22% of all people surveyed said they would eat out more often as restrictions are relaxed, that proportion jumped to 28% among 18-to-34-year-olds and fell to 15% among people 55 and older.

Nature’s research found there are ways for businesses to encourage people to venture out and return to pre-COVID patterns.

Sixty per cent of people said proper cleaning and sanitising would prompt them to revisit venues, 56% nominated the provision of hand sanitisers, 56% enforced social distancing, 46% mandatory mask wearing, and 44% health and safety training for venue staff.

The idea of outdoor dining is a polarising one, with 36% of Melburnians saying it’s likely to make them more willing to dine out as restrictions are eased, yet 27% less likely. Almost 50% think outdoor dining will be safer than indoor dining, but 17% believe it will harm the quality of service (versus 24% thinking it’ll be better), 24% think it will have a negative effect on atmosphere (39% think it will improve it), and 10% say it will affect the quality of the food served (21% think it will help it).

How far from home will Melburnians travel? Just over 60% are prepared to leave their local areas to dine out, shop and go to a cultural or sporting event. But almost 20% are hesitant about, or will not, travel beyond their local areas.

“Melbourne is clearly poised at a delicate but critical time. Many consumers are torn between the ambivalence of pent up drive to normalise versus caution and/or financial constraints or prudence. The business community, while fighting its own battle for survival, needs to do its best to deliver safe and value for money offerings to maximise the prospects of repeat visitation,” Dr Crook said.

“There is clearly latent demand for a return to normal participation levels, but this will only be fully realised if underlying consumer concerns are addressed.”


The “Reopening Melbourne” report is based on research among more than 1,000 Melburnians aged 18 and over. The interviews were conducted from 18 to 21 September 2020.


Nature is a 14-year old strategic insights consultancy with 30 consultants across Melbourne and Sydney. Awarded B&T research agency of the year in 2018 and twice a Grand Finalist in ESOMAR’s Global Research Effectiveness Awards, Nature combines human analysis skills with technology and data to create clarity so clients can embark on business decisions with confidence.