The return of Sundance is welcomed by hotels and other businesses

A little over a year ago, many commercial and artistic events — conventions, film festivals, and so on — were planning to return after pandemic isolation.

​At the same time, the micron variant of the coronavirus was on the rise, so many of these returns were cancelled. The Sundance Film Festival was one of them.

So last January, we spoke to business owners in Park City, Utah, about the loss of business the festival was supposed to create. Now, as Sundance once again looks forward to its return from quarantine starting Thursday, we decided to explore what the return of the annual festivals, conferences and trade shows means for the host cities.

Last year, the Park City Peaks Hotel was fully booked for the entire festival. Until word got around that Sundance was happening on Zoom.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the news,” said Sean Rayner, the hotel’s director of sales.

Park City Peaks suddenly became 90% vacant for what is usually one of the most lucrative weeks. “You know, you just go into coding mode,” Rayner said.

The hotel managed to free up some rooms for skiers at reduced prices. Still, Rayner said the cancellation is a financial blow. This is a well-known story all over the world, according to Steve Heap, general secretary of the Association of Festival Organizers.

“From public transport, taxi companies, bars, grocery stores – whatever. Everyone stuck together,” he said.

2022 was supposed to bring the triumphant return of the events industry, but the virus had other plans. “In fact, it became known as the year of ‘let’s get going,'” Heap said.

In 2023, companies are preparing for gatherings that they hope will be something like normal.

“Our vice president of operations always calls South by Southwest our Super Bowl,” said Mason Ayer, owner of Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin, Texas.

Before the pandemic, the restaurant, open 24 hours a day, was a popular spot for midnight pancakes during the festival. “Especially during South by Southwest, those 24-hour operations were extremely important to us,” Ayer said.

But this year it is facing a labor shortage. So, “we won’t have that this year,” he said.

At Park City Peaks, Sean Rayner said tourists and corporate groups stayed all week for Sundance. Now, “they check in on Thursday and check out on Monday.”

A collective belt-tightening could mean spending less at those events — or maybe not going at all.

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