Thousands of visitors will flock to Austin in the coming days and weeks for South by Southwest, but is there enough room to house all of them? Of course, it’s hard to pinpoint just how many people attend SXSW each year, but, as any Austinite can tell you, it’s a lot.
“The official numbers are something like 370,000 people coming in are official attendees for SXSW, but I think we all know that there are a ton of people outside that that come,” says Shion Deysarkar, founder and CEO of Datafiniti. The company recently published a report examining whether Austin has enough rooms to house all those visitors. SXSW organizers report that more than 12,000 hotel reservations were made last year. But that figure counts 69 official SXSW hotels, and it doesn’t consider how many people stayed in each room.
“So, it was very difficult to peg down the exact number, which is why we eventually ended up with the statistics from the airport and used that as the best proxy we could find,” he says.
Deysharkar looked at how many people deplaned at Austin-Bergstrom International airport last March. He estimated about half of that to be SXSW traffic, about 250,000 people. Next, he considered the average length of each visitor’s stay, and capacity at hotels and short-term rentals, or STRs. Deysarkar found that both are essential to housing all those visitors.
“There’s about 34,000 people who can be housed in STRs, and you compare that to about 39,000 that can be housed in hotels.”
STRs have become a major point of contention in Austin. While some hail the system as a way for residents to earn more money, critics say they essentially serve as hotels in residential areas. Last month, the Austin City Council approved new regulations for Type 2 STRs, short-term rentals that aren’t owner-occupied. The city has temporarily stopped issuing new permits for Type 2 STRs, and it plans to completely phase out them out of residential areas by 2022, a move Deysarkar says could hurt the event-driven economy.
“Just based on what the data shows, it definitely would have an impact on how many visitors large events like SXSW, or maybe ACL, could support,” he says. “And, it’s unclear how many of those could realistically be in Austin without the current STR capacity we have.”
He says, including STRs, the city has more than enough places for people to stay. Reduce that capacity, he says, and visitors could end up looking miles away to find a bed.