Nightclub scene in decline in Australia as young people opt for dating apps, healthier lifestyles

Stewart Burchell has a twinkle in his eye as he surveys the empty dancefloor, with its smooth sticky floor and hints of discarded glitter.

“Back in the day it was a pretty cool place,” he says.

“We’d open at least three nights a week, and the bar would be open until 4am.

“But we’ve had our challenges lately.”

Like many nightclubs across Australia, the Skylla Bar, on the main street of Broome in Western Australia, has been closed for months.

A smiling DJ performs before a packed outdoor dancefloor
Outdoor entertainment venues have become more popular during the COVID pandemic.(ABC News: Erin Parke)

Long-time manager Stewart Burchell says a combination of short staffing, COVID shutdowns and rising costs are to blame.

But he reckons there is something else going on as well. The nightlife scene is changing.

“Over the last 10-15 years, nightclubs in general have been in decline,” Mr Burchell says.

A man in a blue shirt and sneakers sits on the edge of an empty dancefloor.
Stewart Burchell has managed the Roebuck Bay Hotel and Skylla Nightclub in Broome for six years.(ABC News: Erin Parke)

“Trends change, and the emergence of small bars had a big effect.

Mr Burchell hopes Skylla will soon start opening on Tuesday nights, when staff are more available, but it will be bucking a trend of nightclub closures across the country.

Women dance enthusiastically at an outdoor bar with a DJ visible onstage.
Young Australians are still partying hard, but not so much at nightclubs.(ABC News: Erin Parke)

global trend

It is a trend being seen around the world, with thousands of nightclubs closing as young people opt for healthier, more relaxed and increasingly digital entertainment options.

In the United Kingdom, where the clubbing scene boomed in the 1980s and 90s, the number of nightclubs has more than halved since 2005, leading to headlines about the “decimation” of a once-proud cultural industry.

In Australia, industry data compiled by IBISWorld shows the number of nightclubs has reduced from 482 to 355 in recent years, with profit margins also in decline.

The closures have been most keenly felt in regional centres, where nightlife options are more limited.

The graph showing a steep decline in nightclub profits
The latest industry snapshot shows both the number and profitability of nightclubs is in decline.(Supplied: IBISWorld)
A large brick building surrounded by gates and palm trees
A closed nightclub in the WA port city of Geraldton.(ABC News: Chris Lewis)

For example, the thriving port city of Geraldton, on the mid-coast of Western Australia, used to have three nightclubs.

Now they are all closed, and an entrepreneurial local has been advertising overnight road trips to go clubbing in the Perth nightclub precinct, more than 400 kilometers away.

Why aren’t young people going clubbing?

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