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Opinion: Proposals for the night time economy could boost our town centres

We should overhaul nightlife to tap into emerging consumer trends, writes Richard Guiney, CEO of DublinTown.

Richard Guiney CEO, DublinTown

THE PROPOSALS FOR the evening and nighttime Economy recently announced by Minister Josepha Madigan deserve consideration and discussion as they may well provide the basis for developing a key sector of the economy at a time of rapid change.

Minister Madigan’s proposals were met with cynicism in some quarters. The same cynicism that suggested that Dublin Bikes would end up in the Liffey, but which frankly failed to see the untapped demand and trends ahead of them.

To put what is being proposed into context, we need to first start by looking at the transformation that the advent of the on-line retail sector and the development of the social economy is spawning. Today more people eat than shop in Dublin city centre, a stark change to the past when retail brands were the main driver of town centre footfall.

What this means is that we will see more retailers stay open later due to the increased footfall after 5pm, while research shows that more than two thirds of the city’s office workers would shop to 9pm Monday to Friday if retailers remained open.

Coupled with this trend, there are the plans to double Dublin’s tourist numbers from 5 million in 2015 to 10 million by 2025. These tourists will need places to go and things to do during the evening. So naturally we will need more evening and night-time activity if we are able to deliver on this ambition.

Ireland has a strong cultural offering which should be strengthened further. There is no reason why Dublin does not become a Music City to stand alongside our status as a UNESCO city of Literature. We know that the cultural attractions are seen by Dubliners as a key component in the city mix. For example, research conducted by Fitzpatrick and Associates for Dublin Town demonstrated the importance of the Abbey Theatre for the wider north city economy and its ability to stimulate further activity in the district surrounding it.



Internationally this combination of strong retail and hospitality within towns is providing the impetus for a concentration of retail back towards traditional town centres. It is estimated that almost half of North America’s malls may close by the end of the next decade, while, for the first time since retail deregulation by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s, the UK High Street is beginning to slowly claw back market share from shopping centres. All retail destinations are feeling the pressure, but town centres are probably best placed to adapt and survive.

We also need to acknowledge how Generation Z, people now coming to adulthood, view their world and how they intend to interact with it differently to older generations. This generation is informed by climate change and the need to alter how we live, if we are to save the world we live in. They are waste adverse and express a desire for experiences over material goods. As a result, we are seeing younger consumers seeking out more leisure and entertainment opportunities.

Coupled with this, we are also seeing younger people turning away from excessive alcohol consumption in the UK and USA. In 2015, 18% of UK 16 to 24-year olds described themselves as non-drinkers and by 2018 this figure had risen to 29%. We can expect to see a similar trend emerging in Ireland. Therefore, to maintain Dublin’s relevance, we need to encourage greater diversity in our evening offering.

In order to respond to these changes and nurture the Night-time Economy, we need to establish the systems and structures to manage this evolution. In this regard, we are not starting with a blank page. Dublin city was selected by the San Francisco based Responsible Hospitality Institute as one of three pilot cities for its Global Cities Project. This project, which is supported by Diageo, is looking at current trends, seeking to extrapolate evening and night-time needs and establishing the changes that are now required now to facilitate this.

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Licensing laws 

A project report was prepared for Dublin which chimes very much with the Minister’s proposals. These include a review of the current antiquated licensing laws; enhancing the viability of our cultural offering and in particular music and entertainment venues; advancing late night public transport for both patrons and those working after dark; simultaneously managing and coordinating the supply and demand of taxis, considering our planning laws and facilitating the growth in core city centre residential populations, while also facilitating the increase in evening activity.

A simple way of illustrating the need for joined up thinking is public transport. The lack of a 24-hour bus system is a serious hinderance. If you are a restaurant owner, how do you get your staff home? In the past, restaurant staff might have lived nearby, but due to pressures in the housing market they are now far more likely to live further away in the Greater Dublin Area. As a result, a taxi to get a staff member home which might have cost €10 is now more likely to cost €70. As a result, it comes as no surprise that the restaurant sector, which is already under pressure, is seeing some high-profile closures due increasing cost pressures. Any sector whose staff finish work late at night is dependent on transport, so it is vital to have a proper strategy in place if we are to have a thriving nightlife.

Given the variety of areas involved such as transport and licensing laws, as well as the need to balance the various interests involved, the creation of an office to manage the anticipated growth in evening activity is an obvious approach. We believe that the Minister’s proposals need to be considered in this context. Benefits such as the revitalisation of the retail sector and meeting our tourism growth targets are plain to see, but we need a coordinated plan if they are to be achieved.

Richard Guiney is the CEO of DublinTown, a not for profit organisation charged with creating a welcoming and economically viable city environment.

DublinTown is a collective of 2,500 businesses in the city centre and aims to enhance the appeal of the city centre as a place for shopping, recreation and business development. 

About the author:

Richard Guiney  / CEO, DublinTown

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