SXSW Cancelled Over Coronavirus Fears


Austin’s annual tech, film, and music festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW) has now been cancelled among rising coronavirus, or COVID-19, concerns. This marks the first cancelation in the festival’s 34-year history. As the event’s usual starting date on March 13 looms closer, the sudden cancellation generated mixed reactions, with some regarding the statement as overdue while others lament the lost revenue due to the lack of travelers that usually come for SXSW. Along with Austin City Limits, SXSW is a chief source of revenue in Austin’s economy, generating over 300 million dollars in 2016 alone. Nevertheless, options are being considered to reschedule the event or create a virtual festival for participants. 

The questions over the cancellation of the festival started a few weeks ago when coronavirus cases began spiking in large cities across the U.S. The concentrated population of Austin, combined with the tens of thousands of people coming into the city for the festival could have provided an environment for the virus to flourish and spread. The increased risk caused a petition to be developed which amassed more than 55,000 signatures calling for the event’s cancellation.  

Austin residents were not the only ones concerned about this health issue. High profile companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Netflix started to pull out of the festival, citing health concerns about travel restrictions in order to reduce employee risk. Guests such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss also pulled out weeks before the cancellation announcement itself. 

However, on March 6, Adler announced that the festival will no longer take place due to an emergency order placed over the COVID-19 outbreak. The cancellation of SXSW means close to 350 million dollars in lost tourism and ticket sales. Local musical artists who base their promotions on SXSW now have to reschedule and lose months worth of planning and income. Currently, refund processes are not known, and with the cancellation of the event out of the company’s hands, they are currently “exploring” options. 

While SXSW is officially over, smaller events are on the rise to create events away from the local downtown area. Fundraisers have also been created to help local businesses and service workers that are negatively impacted by the cancellation. However, some travelers may still come to Austin as they cannot refund their ticket so close to the event date. With this smaller source of revenue, local businesses have to now rely on each other to create unofficial events. 

With this rise in unofficial events, a movement known as #AltSXSW is on the rise among registered participants and visitors to create a space where they can continue to share ideas and buy overstocked items from vendors. This also allows the business and music participants to get the key connections and ideas that are usually a staple at SXSW. However, health concerns over large gatherings are still apparent, making the status of these events unknown. 

The cancellation of the economic powerhouse that is known as SXSW has now brought even more questions to the local community. Issues over local economic status and tourism have sparked  a discussion over whether this procedure is seen as rational or panic-driven. Although health concerns are no longer a major issue, the financial crisis may result in more loss than the increased public safety gains. For now, Austin hopes that it can manufacture a solution to generate revenue for businesses while safely bringing people together.