Work Travel to City Financial Centers Has Plummeted by 70% due to COVID-19

By: Yan He, Principal Research Engineer, Verizon Media Data Science and Estelle Danilo, Flurry Analyst

 

Measures taken to contain Coronavirus —restricting travel, closing non-essential businesses and enforcing social distancing— have plunged the U.S. economy into a severe recession. Financial districts in major U.S. cities house a disproportionate number of corporate headquarters, which generate a significant share of economic activity in America. In this report, we show how travel to U.S. financial districts has plummeted during the economic downturn. 

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, sees app usage on one million mobile applications, with a large concentration in the United States. To estimate the change in traffic to U.S. financial districts, we averaged the number of active mobile devices across 5 of the country’s largest financial centers: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. For our pre-coronavirus baseline, we use January 13 - 19, the most recent non-holiday week prior to the first U.S. coronavirus case. Let’s examine the changes in traffic to these business centers.

 

In the chart above, we show the percent change in daily active mobile app users located in U.S. financial districts from March 1 to July 20 compared to the January baseline. We display this change in blue against the rising number of new coronavirus cases in gray. During the first two weeks of March, the pandemic had not yet impacted travel to financial city centers. As we observe in the chart, travel to financial districts was relatively stable during the first two weeks of March, hovering around 10% higher than the baseline.

Starting March 13, when the federal government declared a national emergency, activity in financial districts began to decline. Over the next two weeks, activity further dropped by 25 percentage points.

Then, from March 27 - 28 — in just a one day period — travel to financial districts nosedived by an additional 35 percentage points. At this time, CDC data showed an exponential rise in new COVID-19 cases. Additionally, stay-at-home orders had already been put in place by around half of U.S. states, resulting in a large part of the population beginning to work from home. 

From April through July, travel to financial districts remained low, around 60% lower than the January baseline. As new cases of coronavirus began surging again in June, travel to financial districts remained low and unchanged, indicating that most professionals continued working from home. Additionally, visits to financial districts declined by 6 percentage points more on weekdays than on weekends. This corresponds to people no longer commuting to financial districts during the workweek, as 88% of organizations encouraged or required employees to work from home, according to Gartner.

With stay-at-home orders issued mid-March, trips to financial districts have tumbled by a staggering 70%. This sudden plunge coincides with the significant decline in U.S. economic activity that began in February.  As we write this report, with coronavirus cases on the rise again, many companies have announced that the majority of their employees will work from home until 2021. As a result, we do not anticipate activity in financial districts to return to baseline levels anytime soon. We’ll continue to monitor mobile app usage and keep you informed about important trends.