Sundance Film Fest and other big events are back after battle with omicron
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A little over a year ago, a whole lot of commercial and arts events — conventions, film festivals and so on — were planning their return from pandemic lockdowns.
At the same time, the omicron variant of the coronavirus was surging, so many of those returns were canceled. The Sundance Film Festival was one of them.
So last January we checked in with business owners in Park City, Utah, about losing the business the festival was supposed to generate. Now, with Sundance looking forward, once again, to its comeback from lockdown starting Thursday, we decided to explore what the return of annual festivals, conferences and trade shows means for host cities.
Last year, Park City Peaks Hotel was fully booked for the entire festival. That is, until word came that Sundance was happening on Zoom.
“Your heart sank when you heard the news,” said Sean Rayner, director of sales at the hotel.
Park City Peaks abruptly became 90% vacant for what’s typically one of its most lucrative weeks. “You know, you just go into scramble mode,” Rayner said.
The hotel was able to offload some rooms to skiers at discounted rates. Still, Rayner said the cancellation was a financial blow. This is a familiar story all over the world, according to Steve Heap, general secretary of the Association of Festival Organizers.
“From public transport, taxi companies, bars, grocery shops — you name it. They all took a pasting,” he said.
2022 was supposed to bring the event industry’s triumphant return, but the virus had other plans. “In fact, it became known as the ‘let’s get by’ year,” Heap said.
In 2023, businesses are gearing up for gatherings they hope will feel something like normal.
“Our vice president of operations always refers to South by Southwest as our Super Bowl,” said Mason Ayer, who owns Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin, Texas.
Pre-pandemic, the restaurant, open around the clock, was a popular spot for midnight pancakes during the festival. “Particularly during South by Southwest, those 24-hour operations were extremely important to us,” Ayer said.
But this year, he’s facing a labor shortage. So, “we’re not gonna have that this year,” he said.
At Park City Peaks, Sean Rayner said tourists and corporate groups used to stay a whole week for Sundance. Now, “they check in Thursday and they’re out on Monday.”
Collective belt-tightening could mean spending less at these events — or maybe not going at all.
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