As concerns over the coronavirus continue to mount, the recent (and unprecedented) cancellations of two major festivals have given way to another potential problem: Neither SXSW nor Ultra Music Festival will issue refunds to ticket and badge-holders, though Consequence Of Sound reports that both organizations will honor the purchases for those who wish to attend future festivals. Ultra Music Festival was cancelled on March 6, just two weeks ahead of its 2020 edition. The annual Miami music fest, which was set to take place over the weekend of March 20, was postponed to March 26-28, 2021. In an email sent to attendees on March 9, organizers said tickets for the 2020 event will “remain valid and will be honored at either the 2021 or 2022 Ultra Miami event.” Those planning to attend the 2020 fest are being offered various perks and discounts, and have 30 days to decide whether they’d like to use their tickets for the 2021 or 2022 events.
Since Ultra has been postponed and not cancelled outright, festival organizers have declined to issue monetary refunds to ticket-holders for the 2020 fest. Despite offering discounts on other purchases, the decision is sure to upset many attendees—particularly those who are also struggling to obtain refunds for travel arrangements.
SXSW also announced its cancellation on March 6, after the Mayor of Austin declared a “local state of disaster.” The festival, which was scheduled to run March 13-22, has long had a no-refund policy regarding badges, as stated clearly on its official website: “Any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason, including, without limitation, failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases.” However, festival organizers are allowing 2020 badge-holders “to defer their registration to 2021, 2022 or 2023.” That said, not even the 2021 edition of the annual Austin festival—which has grown to encompass music, film, tech, and sports—is guaranteed due to the exorbitant cost of cancelling this year’s fest.
Speaking with the Austin American-Statesman, SXSW co-founder Roland Swenson revealed that the festival’s insurance policy does not cover cancellations due to “bacterial infections, communicable diseases, viruses and pandemics.” In a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal, Swenson said he is “not entirely sure” how the festival would return in 2021 given the cost of cancelling this year’s edition. SXSW generates over $350 million in annual revenue for the city of Austin, but its cancellation has a significant impact on far more than the local economy: the musicians and filmmakers planning to showcase at the festival, the indie musicians playing unofficial showcases, service industry workers, local restaurants and bars, ride share drivers who come from all over the state to make extra (and much-needed) cash, freelance journalists, and on and on.
On March 9, the Austin Chronicle reported that SXSW had let go of roughly one-third of its 175 year-round employees in an effort to offset the costs of cancellation. Speaking with the Chronicle, a high-ranking official said the lay-offs were “the only way to stop the bleeding.”