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SXSW cancellation over coronavirus will cost Austin's local economy a fortune

Thomas Barrabi

The cancellation of the South by Southwest festival amid coronavirus outbreak fears will likely cost the city of Austin, Texas, hundreds of millions of dollars, based on past impact studies conducted on behalf of the event’s organizers.

A popular annual gathering for companies and influencers across the tech, film and music industries, SXSW generated an estimated local economic impact of $355.9 million in 2019, according to an analysis conducted by Greyhill Advisors. That total included an estimated $157.1 million positive impact from year-round preparation related to the festival, employing full-time, temporary and seasonal employees.

Austin city officials opted to cancel SXSW 2020 on Friday due to concerns related to the potential spread of coronavirus. Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster in the city and noted the decision to cancel the festival was made after consultations with health officials.

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“We are devastated to share this news with you,” SXSW organizers said in a statement. "The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

Organizers said they are “exploring options” to potentially reschedule SXSW, adding that they are developing an “online experience” to serve as a placeholder for attendees. Officials said they would publish a fact sheet for registrants, participants and clients about next steps.

Several prominent companies, including Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, had already pulled out of the festival over coronavirus. A Change.org petition calling for SXSW to be canceled due to safety concerns drew more than 55,000 signatures before the decision was made.

As recently as last year, SXSW organizers said the festival was “the single most profitable event for the City of Austin’s hospitality industry.” The 2019 event drew more than 73,000 attendees, nearly 5,000 guest speakers and more than 4,300 media members.

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SXSW reported more than 12,800 direct hotel bookings for last year’s festival, generating nearly $1.9 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue. That total did not include attendees who booked rooms outside the SXSW platform.

There were at least 244 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Friday afternoon, including at least 12 deaths. The state of Texas has reported five cases so far.

More than 101,000 cases have been reported worldwide, mostly in China as tracked by Johns Hopkins.

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