More than a year ago, many business and arts events—conferences, film festivals, etc.—were planning to return from pandemic lockdowns.
At the same time, omicron variants of the coronavirus proliferated, so many returns were canceled. The Sundance Film Festival is one of them.
So, last January, we checked with business owners in Park City, Utah, about the loss of business that should be generated during the holidays. Now, with Sundance once again looking forward to returning from the lockdown that began Thursday, we decided to explore what the return of the annual festival, conference and trade show means for the host city.
Last year, the Park City Peaks Hotel was booked out for the entire festival. That is, until news broke that the Sundance Film Festival was happening on Zoom.
“When you hear that, your heart sinks,” said Sean Rayner, the hotel’s director of sales.
Park City Peaks was suddenly 90% vacant in what is usually one of the most profitable weeks. “You know, you just go into scramble mode,” Reyna said.
Hotels are able to sell some rooms to skiers at discounted rates. Still, Rainer said the cancellation was a financial blow. According to Steve Shipp, secretary general of the Association of Film Festival Organizers, it’s a story the world is familiar with.
“From public transport, taxi companies, bars, grocery stores — everything. They’re all pasted,” he said.
2022 was supposed to bring the event industry back in triumph, but the virus had other plans. “In fact, it’s been called the ‘let’s get through’ year,” Shipp said.
In 2023, businesses are gearing up for parties they want to feel like the norm.
“Our VP of operations always refers to South by Southwest as our Super Bowl,” says Mason Al, who owns Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin, Texas.
Before the pandemic, the restaurant was open 24/7 and was a popular spot for midnight pancakes during the holiday season. “Especially during South by Southwest, those 24-hour operations are extremely important to us,” Ayer said.
But this year, he faces a labor shortage. So, “we won’t have that this year,” he said.
At Park City Peaks, Sean Rayner said tourists and corporate groups used to stay for a full week at Sundance. Now, “they check in on Thursday and go out on Monday.”
A collective belt-tightening could mean spending less on these events — or perhaps not attending at all.
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