Sandton City is 'just extraordinary', owner says as mall beats pre-pandemic activity

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Sandton City is outperforming the market as it keeps strategizing how to draw more people on weekends.
Sandton City is outperforming the market as it keeps strategizing how to draw more people on weekends.
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  • Liberty Two Degrees says more than 23.5 million customers visited its malls between January and April.
  • Sandton City, Pietermaritzburg's Midlands Mall and Botshabelo Mall are selling much more than they did in early 2019.
  • Sandton City is outperforming the market as it keeps strategising how to draw more people on weekends.

Several Liberty Two Degrees (L2D) malls have more people visiting them now than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic. They are also selling much more than they did before.

The owner of Sandton City hosted an investors' call and its 2022 annual general meeting (AGM) ahead of its closed period on Wednesday. It said more than 23.5 million customers entered its malls in the first four months of 2022. In April, the foot count in its malls was 14.6% higher than in April 2019, and 19.5% above the April 2021 levels. And on weekends it gets even busier, especially in Sandton City.

"[There's] a return of demand to brick-and-mortar retail, as well as confidence that physical retail and online retail will co-exist successfully in the future … The physical environment needs online, but online also needs the physical environment where people can touch and feel," said L2D CEO, Amelia Beattie.

The shopping malls with the highest turnover compared to the first quarter of 2019 were Sandton City (up 29.4%), Pietermaritzburg's Midlands Mall (up 26.9%) and Botshabelo Mall (up 41.5%). Combined, all of L2D's malls recorded turnover that was at least 13% higher than in the comparable first three months of 2019.

Sandton City outshines everyone

Sandton City is however outperforming every mall in the portfolio and SA's retail property market at large. In 2021, the mall dubbed Africa's premier shopping destination, attracted 17 million customers. And in the first four months of 2022, almost seven million people visited the mall. In the three months to March, Sandton City had already generated a turnover of R2 billion.

"Sandton City continues to outperform the market. It's just extraordinary. It has reached and exceeded pre-Covid-19 levels every month since August last year," said Beattie.

READ | Sandton City beats pre-pandemic sales as shoppers fork out for luxury brands

L2D has been using smart cameras installed in stores at Sandton City to observe what draws people to the mall and strategise what else it can do to keep them coming back.

Now, over and above the baby-care lounge it launched in 2019, Sandton City has created a "moms and pops" baby node, targeting young families to spend time at the mall, especially on weekends.

Sandton City will also host SA's biggest pop-up retail market in June to further boost the mall's foot count.

Across Sandton City, L2D's Nelson Mandela Square has also seen significant recovery this year as people return to dine in restaurants. Although Nelson Mandela Square's turnover is still 7.8% lower than in the first quarter of 2019, it was considerably above last year's.

Sandton hotels are starting to fill up

L2D has been operating only two of its three hotels in Sandton. The Sandton Sun reopened late in 2020. The Garden Court reopened in October last year. The InterContinental Sandton Towers has not been taking guests since the 2020 lockdown began.

That said, L2D plans to reopen it this July. It is rebranding that hotel as merely Sandton Towers. However, it is still in the hands of the same operator as before.

ALSO READ | Sandton City owners hope 2022 reignites once bustling 'richest square mile in Africa'

The two hotels that reopened earlier have significantly higher occupancy rates at present.

For instance, after the Sandton Sun reopened, its occupancy rate sat at 18.3% in January 2021. This rose to 72% this April. The Garden Court, which reopened with a 14.3% occupancy rate in May 2021, had an average occupancy of 35.9% in the first four months of 2022.

The hotels are also benefitting from the increased activity in the Sandton Convention Centre, which is also owned by L2D. The conference centre has had 47 events in the first four months of this year. More are coming up, including the Manufacturing Indaba, hospitality and foodservice show, Hostex, RMB WineX 2022, Power & Electricity World Africa conference and The Water Show Africa 2022.

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