Leveraging Foot Traffic Analytics for Municipal Economic Development

Municipalities and local government leaders can use location intelligence to attract business, optimize their community services, boost tourism, and improve revenue management and forecasting.

Leveraging Foot Traffic Analytics for Municipal Economic Development

What is Foot Traffic Analytics for Municipalities?

Foot traffic data, sometimes called location analytics or footfall data, analyzes the movement of people from place to place. It includes microdata, such as visitor counts, and bigger-picture data, like demographic shifts within populations. Information can be gathered from various sources, but the most common is mobile location data. 

Foot traffic analytics can enhance municipal operations by revealing the strengths and weaknesses of an area, highlighting what economic opportunities lie untapped, and providing detailed insights into a demographic. Foot traffic data can provide in-depth insights into which municipal strategies are likely to succeed and aid decision-making processes. Cities can use foot traffic data to identify unmet retail needs to show businesses why they should consider opening stores in the area. 

Read on to see some of the ways to leverage foot traffic for effective planning and development.

1. Gain Deep Community Knowledge 

Until recently, traffic and visitor counts provided the main bulk of the foot traffic data available. While those tools can provide useful insight into a population, they can only provide so much information. Mobile location technology has advanced in recent years, making it easier to understand population segments than ever before. And though the phrase “foot traffic data” has often been associated with the retail segment, local governments can harness location data to gain a deeper understanding of their demographics.

Where are visitors coming from?

Before location analytics became widespread, officials often relied on self-reported information to gain insight into where visitors to a given destination were coming from. Today, movement patterns in, within, or around designated points of interest can be mapped out with ease with Placer.ai's True Trade Area (TTA) analysis. True Trade Area provides a clear mobile-powered visualization of where people are coming from to visit a specific area, allowing you to accurately measure and analyze visitor behavior in your region.

As an example, a community center could utilize TTA data to discover where visitors come from, and advertise events to these groups. The data can be filtered to include or exclude employees, residents, or visitors to the community center, and can also be used to show the frequency of visits. Similarly, two similar venues can be compared using the foot traffic of both as a metric to see how one fares against the other. These comparisons can provide a zoomed-out view of both sites and their typical visitor profile.

Screenshot from Placer.ai's platform showing hourly and daily visit shares to a venue.
Daily and hourly visits breakdown to Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA. Visits peak on afternoon evenings and on Saturdays.

What characterizes the people that live and work in this region? What are their interests and preferences?

Effective municipal planning takes into account the demographics in a given area, and looks to understand that segment. Analyzing Trade areas can highlight the makeup of people living or visiting a given city, and adding socio-demographic and psychographic insights can illustrate the unique characteristics of a given community. The Placer Marketplace offers a wide range of datasets that show the characteristics and preferences of a given area, which can be leveraged in many ways.

For example, the FollowGraph by Spatial dataset on Placer’s Marketplace identified an above-average interest in certain high-end and luxury brands for the trade area of downtown Atlanta, GA’s office district. With the ability to filter between many different retail segments and compare them to a nationwide benchmark, municipal planners can encourage the opening of businesses that cater to the broader preferences of the workers in the area.

FollowGraph by Spatial dataset layered onto Placer's True Trade Area indicates visitors to Atlanta's downtown office district have a stronger interest in certain high-end and luxury brands when compared to the nationwide benchmark.

A wide range of municipal functions can be informed using foot traffic data – from creating a better understanding of whether residents of a city or visitors to it constitute foot traffic to a specific landmark. 

Is there a population drift? If so, where?

Every city will see populations constantly shifting and changing – people find new jobs and move away, an office opens in the area and brings an influx of new workers, or cost of living changes make a move necessary. These shifts may leave municipal workers unsure as to which community services need to be offered. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated certain migration trends, some cities saw fairly noticeable population jumps while others saw declines. These shifts can be identified across various metrics using foot traffic data. The migration tools on the Placer.ai platform provide a way to track migration trends to every state, city, or zip code and see where people are moving across the US. This information allows local leaders to identify if a region is gaining popularity or losing its population, and learn about associated demographic changes. Placer's free Migration Trends tool clearly visualizes how populations are shifting. Meanwhile, the Placer.ai Blog or Domestic Migration Trends white paper offers context on different migration patterns across the US.

Screenshot from Placer.ai's platform showing domestic migration trends to Fulton, GA.
Location data indicates a 2.84% positive migration trend to Fulton country, GA. Yo2Y September 2022

2. Attract Best-Fit Retailers and Employers

Local governments will prioritize attracting retailers to their region through incentives and grants, as a robust retail foundation fuels the local economy and creates jobs. Local shopping areas can meet the local community's needs by curating the right mix of retailers, which is crucial for boosting foot traffic and supporting local businesses. City planners can use mobile location data to discover business opportunities and serve an area better, as seen in the example of Atlanta’s office district. 

City officials can use location intelligence to identify the types of businesses that are likely to bring a wider range of visitors to these areas and use this information to promote their region to such businesses or plan strategic incentive programs. 

Another aspect of city planning centers around understanding what retail gaps, if any, exist. "Retail leakage," or losing out on potential sales, occurs when there are insufficient retail resources in a city, causing would-be consumers to take their shopping – and tax revenue – outside the city. Municipal planners who identify these leaks and find retail investments to patch them up need a thorough understanding of both consumer and local marketplace. 

The Placer Marketplace has designated datasets, such as STI: Popstats or AGS: Retail Potential/Gap, identifying where consumer demand is unfulfilled. These tools draw on a multitude of data points to pinpoint retail opportunities. Factors such as consumer expenditure within and outside a given retail area and population growth forecasts are used in tandem with Placer.ai data to create retail forecasts. 

Smaller or peripheral cities can sometimes struggle to attract national retailers and can use the Void Analysis report to identify best-fit retailers and demonstrate the role they can fill within the existing market. The Void Analysis report determines where a retail gap exists within a shopping center or geographical area and can show what retailer would be the best fit for the community surrounding the center.

The data sets available on the Placer.ai platform can help accurately demonstrate the available business opportunities and potential with numbers to back it up. 

Screenshot of Placer.ai's Void Analysis tool.
Void Analysis report presents the top matches of restaurants to fill a vacancy at The Avenue East Cobb shopping center in the greater Atlanta area, GA.

Learn how retail brands and real estate professionals use foot traffic data to select a new location in our retail site selection guide.

3. Boost Travel & Tourism

Tourism drives economic growth – not just to the tourist sites themselves but to surrounding businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and shops. Local leaders can create more jobs and promote different initiatives that attract more tourists – a net benefit for any city.

Location data is crucial in this process, helping municipalities identify untapped tourism & travel opportunities to ignite visitors' interest in a region. Location insights can help highlight where visitors are coming from, what routes they travel, where they stay, and what sites they visit. 

For example, the data may show that many families with young children are coming to visit a particular site. In that case, city officials might prioritize child-friendly infrastructure when allocating budgets. 

Request a ready-to-use Trip Origination by Market report using the Placer Xtra service to analyze multi-day or overnight tourism.

Screenshot from Placer.ai's platform showing a visits heatmap in a large shopping center.
Visits heatmap showing changes in visitation from top zip codes to Pemberton place, home of the Georgia Aquarium World of Coca-Cola the Center for Civil and Human Rights

Identify Areas in Need of Development

Most cities have attractions with unmet potential. Municipalities can tap into location data to analyze low-performance areas and see who is visiting – and not visiting – the site. Digging into the visitor personas may help uncover what draws these visitors to the site, which can help city planners can effectively target these more willing audiences. 

Location intelligence tools can also help city planners and other local officials decide where to focus redevelopment efforts or upgrades. Aside from identifying where visitors are coming from, these tools also help compare visits across different time periods to track any changes in overall foot traffic, dwell time, or demographic attributes of visitors. 

Measure Performance and Demonstrate Success

Many stakeholders are involved in actualizing successful city projects, from federal grant offices to municipal officials – and these stakeholders want to invest their resources in projects that are most likely to succeed. Whether a city undertook a long capital improvement project or initiated a campaign to attract more tourists to a local site, location data can be instrumental in highlighting the impact of efforts and in measuring success.

Stakeholders can be kept abreast of a project’s progress utilizing metrics such as visitation numbers or duration available on Placer.ai's platform. Comparing metrics before and after a project kickoff can demonstrate the impact of a given initiative, for example, by indicating changes in visitation not only to a specific area or venue but also to nearby businesses. These metrics can also highlight whether the composition of visitors, residents, and employees has shifted, how dwell times have changed, and if previously unreached audiences are moving to the area.

4. Make Better Tax Estimations 

One of the main focuses of any city planning committee revolves around budgetary constraints. Weighing policy concerns and improvement plans against anticipated revenues and determining how to allocate funds are central to city planning. Accurate models that can help estimate tax and revenue to create better projections for yearly budgets can be crucial to municipal leaders.

Visitation data to local retailers and venues can help build accurate budgets by identifying the businesses fueling the local economy. Municipalities can pinpoint potential sales tax revenue from stores by comparing sales data with visits to the retailer in question, and extrapolating revenue potential based on that historical data. 

5. Amplify the Reach of Public Events 

Other significant sources of revenue come in the form of public events. State fairs, themed festivals, sporting events – hosting public events can draw in many visitors, both local and national. 

Events can drive additional revenue to a given area and bring publicity that piques the interest of those outside the community, further increasing year-round tourism.

Accurately measuring the actual impact of such events can be challenging, as often measured across many metrics. Analyzing where visitors came from, how long they stayed, and where they went after the event can show the true ripple effects of tourism.  This information can help city officials plan marketing efforts for future events. Additionally, city councils can show these data-driven success stories to stakeholders such as event sponsors, advertisers, donors, and local organizations.

Screenshot from Placer.ai's platform showing the trade area of a venue in 2021 and 2022.
Trade area analysis of the Music Midtown event in Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA the 2022 events (purple) compared to 2021 (red). The 2021 event seemed to attract visitors from further areas, characterized by a higher % of family households, further distances traveled, and higher household income. 2022 saw a shrinking trade area for this event.

Learn more about how to drive economic success in your community.

Location data can provide a wealth of information to cities looking to make data-driven decisions. Municipalities can use this information to learn about their cities' demographics, understand movement in and out of the city, or even look at details as small as visitation trends to the local shopping center. 

Visit placer.ai for more information. 

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