Annual report shows SXSW had $355.9 million economic impact to Austin in 2019

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The South by Southwest Conference & Festivals increased its impact on the Austin economy in 2019 by 1.45% over the previous year, according to a report released Oct. 8.

The report, prepared annually for SXSW by Greyhill Advisors, showed the festival had a $355.9 million economic impact, up from $350.8 million in 2018 and $317.2 million four years ago in 2015.

The report breaks the economic benefits from SXSW to Austin into three categories. The attendance impact measures money spent around official events for badge and ticket holders. Examples, according to Greyhill Advisors partner Ben Loftsgaarden, in the category would include the money a company spends to set up an activation as well as the hotel costs for badge holders through the week.

“The attendance economic impact is really what you think when you think of SXSW—the economic impact in that 10-day to two-week period,” Loftsgaarden said.

The attendance impact in 2019 was $182.1 million, up 3.76% from $175.5 million last year.

The operational impact of the festival, which measures the ongoing expenses for the SXSW organization—based in Austin at 1400 Lavaca St.—was $157.1 million in 2019, while the consumer impact—expenditures by guest pass holders and official parties—came in at $16.1 million.

Since 2014, when Greyhill Advisors started tracking consumer impact for SXSW, consumer impact has dropped from $56.9 million to $16.7 million—a dip of 71.7%, while the attendance impact has increased by more than $40 million—a spike of 75%.

All that has led to mostly slow but steady growth for SXSW’s economic impact, which Loftsgaarden attributes to the confines the festival is working within regarding both lodging for guests and event space at the convention center. If SXSW were to add additional programming or large hotels were to continue coming online, he said, the numbers could tick up faster, but in 2019, SXSW maximized most of the space available within Austin.

“I think what we’ve seen is the stability because of the capacity limitations. That’s been a major factor,” Loftsgaarden said.

As Community Impact Newspaper reported in February, the average hotel rate during SXSW shot up from $185 in 2010 to $396 in 2018. However, the 2019 report found that for the first time in nearly a decade, average hotel rates fell compared to the previous year—taking a modest dip to $365 a night. The report said that more than 12,000 rooms were booked during the festival, earning the city of Austin nearly $1.7 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue.

SXSW announced its first round of featured and keynote speakers Sept. 10 for the 2020 festival. The convergence keynote speaker will be Reggie File-Aimé, former Nintendo president and chief operating officer, and Kim Gordon of the band Sonic Youth will be the keynote speaker for the music festival.

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Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. He graduated in 2011 from Boston University and worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in January of 2018.
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