Is everything really bigger in Texas? Sure, there’s a bit of bravado in that statement though the annual South by Southwest festival makes for a strong case to back up the claim.
The annual event that brings film, interactive media, music and education to the city of Austin ended its two-week run with conference leaders expecting to report increased everything—attendance, sessions, speakers, hotel room nights, economic impact and more—once the final numbers are in.
To back up a bit, the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID and the 2021 event was fully virtual. Last year, with some COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the event brought in nearly 50,000 attendees from 112 counties, more than 4,600 speakers and 1,800-plus sessions. The event resulted in more than 45,500 hotel room nights for nearly $1.8 million in hotel occupancy tax for the city of Austin. Overall, the event generated an economic impact of more than $280.7 million.
This year? The numbers are not in for 2023, but are expected to be even bigger for SXSW. In addition to the media and education tracks, SXSW has become a platform for new technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Word-of-mouth marketing has been a big part of our growth,” Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer for SXSW, said in an interview before the event began. “The key part is to encourage your community to advocate for you. People only talk about the things that they can relate to. At SXSW, the community is the hero that shares speaker proposals and topic ideas. At the same time, they are the evaluators who assess these ideas, vote for them, and create the buzz.
"Content and willingness to adapt to the audience's demand kept us relevant for over 35 years. If we'd stayed only as a music event, we would not have survived or even grown to the extent we have. As much as we have changed and pivoted over that 35-plus years, the North Star hasn't particularly changed. That is about focusing on very, very creative people.”
Keynote speakers included the likes of José Andrés, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Tilda Swinton, New Order, and Margo Price. There was star power in sessions with Robert Downey Jr., William Shatner, Eva Longoria, Troy Kotsur, Sam Raimi and other royalty from the music and film world.
Overall, there were more than 25 education conference tracks ranging from civic engagement, climate change, good, workplace revolution to advertising and brand experience, tech, health and medtech, sports, culture, travel and leisure and more.
Forrest added that events are the “new church.”
“They are a way for people to experience community, interact face to face, meet new people, and feel inspired. That's powerful."