- After a three year hiatus where it was only virtual, SXSW thankfully returned to Austin last week.
- In addition to the intangible benefits, SXSW allegedly brings a big economic boost to Austin.
- And it was great to have SXSW back on our streets.
It had been three years since South by Southwest (SXSW) had graced the streets of Austin in person. For the last two years, SXSW has been virtual only. And while I am sure they put on a great virtual conference, its not quite the same as having it in person.
For Austinites, we sometimes view SXSW with some hesitation because of all the people it brings to the area. Traffic is bad enough during normal times. But after not having it for two years, everyone I talked to (I know – quite a scientific poll) was really excited for SXSW’s return – including me. Its so ingrained in the City and it was sorely missed the last two virtual years.
It is just more exciting around here during SXSW. I mean, Austin is a pretty exciting place on most days, but SXSW gives it a huge extra boost. The city is more alive during SXSW. But aside from just raising the excitement level, SXSW also provides other benefits to us. And that’s what we are going to talk about this week.
South by Southwest is an Austin Treasure
I talked a little above about what an intangible benefit SXSW brings to Austin. In addition to raising the energy of the city, it provides fantastic opportunities to hear great panels or see new movies or listen to music. But in addition to that, there are also economic benefits that SXSW brings.
According to a 2019 report, SXSW was directly responsible for 12,800 hotel reservations in the city. These reservations let to approximately $1.9 million in hotel occupancy taxes. The report claimed that the total consumer impact to the area was $16.7 million.*
In addition to the measurable economic impact, SXSW provides great exposure for Austin. According to Hugh Forrest, the Chief Programming Officer of SXSW, the 2022 crowd was expected to be just slightly smaller than the 2019 crowd. That’s a lot of people coming to see and enjoy our great city. In addition, there is a lot of increased national media coverage of Austin at its best. This coverage can lead to people being interested in living/working/investing in Austin. According to that same study above, the value of the increased media coverage to the City is almost $340 million.
So in addition to the benefit the actual festival brings – entertainment, thought provoking panels, etc – SXSW also potentially provides a big economic boost to Austin.
What Could Derail SXSW?
But that, of course, does not mean that everything is wine and roses during SXSW. I already mentioned above that the additional people make a bad traffic situation far worse. But that, of course is a temporary problem.
In addition, there is some cost to the City. I do not know and could not find the details about police presence, who pays for it, etc. But there must be some cost to Austin to host a festival of this size. But there is little doubt (to me, at least) that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Unfortunately, however, there is something else that could derail SXSW. Late Sunday night, there was another shooting on Sixth Street downtown. Four people were shot and hospitalized with minor injuries. This is a worrying trend for Austin. If there is a significant increase in crime, it could potentially discourage people from coming to SXSW. And that would be a disaster for both the Festival and the City.
But overall, SXSW is just a huge benefit for Austin. And its hard to explain how much it was missed the last two years. So thank you, SXSW, for bringing this terrific festival to our city.
*I’ve written before that I am sometimes dubious of economic benefit reports like this, but it’s the best information I could find.