Get ready to shake your fist over traffic, loud music and plenty of out-of-towners. South by Southwest is back.
The big picture: While SXSW organizers say they don’t expect participation to return completely to pre-pandemic levels, city officials and vacation rental companies report promising signs in booking rates as the festival approaches.
By the numbers: Vrbo reported a nearly 50% increase in demand for vacation rentals in the Austin area for this year’s event compared to 2019, according to Expedia Group spokesperson Nola Lu.
- Hotels.com — also part of the Expedia Group — saw a 35% increase in searches last week compared to the week prior. Meanwhile, the current average nightly rate for Austin hotels this March has increased by about 5% compared to 2019, Lu added.
- Austin is trending on Airbnb, according to spokesperson Haven Thorn, adding that 2019 Airbnb hosts generated more than $11 million in income, with the average host making over $950.
Yes, but: Vacation rental bookings aren’t entirely back to their pre-pandemic levels for SXSW, according to research firm AirDNA, which collects and analyzes short-term rental data.
- “When we look where we are compared to the total nights booked in 2019, demand is down about 30%,” Jamie Lane, vice president of research, told Axios. “But, when we look at 2019, with bookings as of March 1st 2019, then demand is only down 8%.”
- As of March 1, revenue for short-term listings was down nearly 20% compared to the same time in 2019.
- And prices remain significantly higher than in 2019, Lane added.
Airbnb and Vrbo did not disclose their latest booking numbers or revenue for short-term rental hosts.
Zoom out: Visit Austin officials couldn’t provide details on hotel bookings for this year’s festival, but said last October’s Formula 1 numbers could be a good indication of travel for SXSW.
- Citywide occupancy during Formula 1 was up 7% compared to 2019, and the average daily occupancy rate was 50% higher than 2019.
- Total hotel revenue for the event days that Visit Austin measured — Thursday through Sunday of Formula 1 — was 22% higher than 2019 figures.
Of note: Annual event totals at the Austin Convention Center are close to pre-pandemic levels, too.
- The convention center hosted 99 events through 2019, which includes SXSW and beyond.
- So far in 2022, the convention center has 79 definite and prospective events on the schedule, according to convention center spokesperson Derick Hackett.
Plus, recent trends show rising confidence among travelers.
- Despite the latest slowdown, confidence remains high as more than 9 in 10 American travelers have travel plans in the next six months, according to a January U.S. Travel Data Report.
- A pandemic high of 71% of American travelers now feel safe traveling outside of their communities, a February report from Longwoods International American Travel Sentiment Study found.
Flashback: We recently reported on promising hotel occupancy numbers from the Downtown Austin Alliance and the metro area’s rebounding travel industry.
What to watch: It’s likely to be a busy spring break. The same travel report also found that 90% of American travelers report plans to go somewhere in the next six months, with 23% planning to travel in the next two months.
- Expect Visit Austin to release hotel occupancy numbers roughly two weeks after the festival concludes.
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