AUSTIN (KXAN) — The amount of money Austin makes from hosting South By Southwest keeps going up, up and up.
A few months ago, the city welcomed about half a million festival-goers, and the organizers announced Monday the revenue from the visitors’ spending on hotels, food and souvenirs came out at just over $350 million.
City leaders told us all of that pays off, even for people who do not go to the festival.
“Every dollar that we raise through that increased sale tax and hotel tax, is a dollar we don’t have to raise through property taxes,” said Mayor Steve Adler. “It helps prevent us from having to raise property taxes in order to be able to provide sidewalks, parks, streets and clinics.”
Last year the festival brought in more than $348 million. The year before that it was $325 million.
While the revenue continues to grow, chief programming officer Hugh Forrest said he doesn’t anticipate the festival to grow in size significantly.
“Attendance is pretty much level now,” he said. “We’ve reached a lot of what we can do in Austin, from a capacity standpoint.”
Forrest explained while adding hotels to downtown helps, for all 425,000 people to find places to stay remains a challenge.
“But I do think that people we have coming in are spending more and more money in Austin, and they’re more and more influential,” Forrest said.
According to Visit Austin, six hotels have either opened or will open in central Austin this year. About eight more are planned for 2019 and 2020, bringing the total number of available rooms downtown to about 12,000.
Another challenge SXSW organizers face next year is its schedule.
The festival is scheduled to begin on March 8 and end on March 17, but local college students will not be on spring break until the week after.
“We’ve talked about this a lot in terms of how we can mitigate the impact,” Forrest said. “We’ve worked a lot with UT in terms of will they have a little more leniency on some of their students who’ve traditionally helped with SXSW.”
He said about a quarter of festival volunteers are typically college students.
“I know SXSW is so much fun. It’s a good attraction for college students and young people,” said Celine Cottenoir, who’s entering her junior year at St. Edward’s University.
She told KXAN she volunteered her freshman year. “So it’s really disappointing.”
She said the week before spring break is usually filled with exams. “I know it’s a really heavy midterm season,” she said. “I’ve always had a lot of papers due before.”
Cottenoir hopes the scheduling conflict is just for one year.
“So not only is it missing out on the festival itself, but possibly furthering your career in that industry,” she said. Cottenoir said many students, especially those who want to work in the film, TV or marketing, aim to use SXSW as networking opportunities. “Not only are there performers, but all kinds of politicians come to speak. And it’s so interesting,” she said.
Forrest told KXAN they’ve already begun planning and will be looking at a wide variety of creative solutions to clear the obstacle. “So it’s going to be different in a lot of ways, but I think we’ll figure out some creative solutions,” he said.