Walking around Gibraltar after 8pm sometimes feels like the place is a ghost town. Perhaps with the exception of Ocean Village, Morrison’s which is open till 11pm and Eroski which shuts at 10pm, pretty much everything else is closed. Gibraltar’s shop opening laws require traders to shut by 8pm at the latest (with few exceptions). This looks even more absurd in summer when daylight hours are long and people are still at the beach and out and about at 8pm. Surely shops and other businesses can benefit from late opening hours?
In fact, cities around the world are starting to embrace the Night Economy with late night shopping or 24-hour opening becoming increasingly available. Last year London Underground started operating trains 24 hours on some tube lines, with the result so far being an increase economic activity estimated at over £171 million and over 3600 jobs directly supported by these night trains (only about 14% of those are transport jobs). In Gibraltar, late night buses have been introduced on weekends which is a step in the right direction.
Indeed, the importance of the Night Economy to London is so significant (estimated at over £26 billion in 2016 and supports 1.25 million jobs), that London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has appointed a ‘Night Czar’ to make London’s night-time economy even better – the writer, broadcaster, DJ, performer and campaigner Amy Lamé. Amy’s appointment comes after the hugely successful creation of night-time mayors in other cities across the globe from Amsterdam and Berlin to San Francisco.
Worldwide, extended opening hours are beginning to spread to other sectors beyond retail. Whether you’re looking to buy or rent a property, actually managing to view properties can be a real chore as most agents close by 17:30 and seem to be closed for the weekend (except Chesterton’s which is open on Saturdays). Some estate agents in London are now offering extended hours with viewings possible until 9pm or even 10pm. Banks too have realised that extended opening is attracting more customers. Branches of Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore and in other countries across Asia are now open until 9pm and on weekends, and 24-hour hair salons are popping up from New York to Sydney. Even some zoos, museums and other tourist attractions are opening up at night to offer a more exciting experience.
Indeed, late night opening has numerous advantages:
- More jobs: The night-time economy is a source of new jobs and new income for the city.
- Revitalisation of public space: It allows the revitalisation of areas and buildings in the city, particularly those that are not used after a certain hour of the day.
- Safety: 24-hour cities promote citizen security. Why? Because – at least perceptually – a street that is filled with people feels much safer than an empty street. For this reason, policies that invite people to stay outside, such as expanding the hours of operation of shops, restaurants and movie theatres, help maintain lively streets.
- Foster tourism: A city with a vibrant night life is much more attractive for visitors. A city that offers late night transportation, as well as restaurants and shops that open late, is much more attractive to those who come to visit. Gibraltar is trying to promote event-driven tourism to get more visitors to stay here overnight. A much wider late-night offering is needed to attract people to stay here.
- Sense of belonging: If managed well, extended opening hours can generate a greater sense of belonging and more coherent communities.
Gibraltar is going through a construction boom at the moment, with large projects being built in Mid-Town, Europort, Queensway, Devil’s Tower Road and the planned new Government developments on the East Side. It is imperative that town planners and policy makers consider the changing lifestyles of cities and integrate facilities and laws that promote night time and weekend activities as part of their strategies.
A 24-hour economy might include night convenience shops and cinemas opening late from time to time. It might involve using venues like the airport terminal as pop-up clubs or performance spaces. It might involve “White Nights” – arts festivals where local areas stay open all night for performances, artworks and celebration – so successful across Europe. And it might mean that an off-duty nurse, a taxi driver or a departing clubber can find a safe, comfortable and welcoming place for a meal or drink during the night.
In practice, while Gibraltar may be too small to make it economically viable for retailers to be open 24×7, the legal framework should be there to allow them to do so, should they wish. In an era when local businesses are competing with 24×7 international online shops and are faced with political and economic uncertainty of Brexit, levelling the playing field in terms of extended opening hours (even on weekends) may be helpful. And there’s little doubt that providing a diverse, vibrant and safe nightlife is a big tourist attraction.