Sundance return welcomed by hotels, other businesses

A little over a year ago, many commercial and arts events, including conventions and film festivals, planned their return from pandemic lockdowns.

At the same time, the Omicron variant of coronavirus was surging, so many of those returns were canceled, including the Sundance Film Festival.

So last January, we asked business owners in Park City, Utah, about losing the business the festival was supposed to generate. We decided to explore what the resumption of annual festivals, conferences and trade fairs means for host cities.

Last year, the Park City Peaks Hotel was fully booked for the entire festival. That is, until word came that Sundance was taking place on Zoom.

“Your heart sank when you heard the news,” said Sean Rayner, the hotel’s sales director.

Park City Peaks was suddenly 90% empty in what is usually one of the most profitable weeks. “You know, just go into scramble mode,” said Rainer.

The hotel was able to offer skiers discounts on some rooms. Still, Rainer said the cancellation would be an economic hit. According to Steve Heap, general secretary of the Association of Festival Organizers, it’s a familiar story around the world.

“Public transport, taxi companies, bars, grocery stores, you name it. They were all glued,” he said.

2022 was supposed to be the event industry’s triumph, but the virus had other plans. “In fact, this year has become known as the year of ‘Let’s Get By,'” Heap said.

In 2023, companies are gearing up for a rally that feels like normal.

Mason Eyre, owner of Kirby Lane Cafe in Austin, Texas, said:

Before the pandemic, 24-hour restaurants were popular spots for midnight pancakes during festivals. “Those of his around the clock were very important to us, especially during South by Southwest,” he says.

But this year we are short of staff. So, “I’m not going to do that this year,” he said.

At Park City Peaks, tourists and corporate groups were staying for the entire week for Sundance, Sean Rayner said. Now, “they check in on Thursday and go out on Monday.”

Bucking your belt collectively could mean spending less on these events, or not attending them at all.

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